Davide Luciano has been wowing opera houses with his Figaro for a couple of years now, and his performance in Il Barbiere last Wednesday at the Dutch National Opera was no exception to the trend. His braggadocio swagger and handsome features have a voice to match – a warm, persuasive baritone with a hint of a twinkle in it. Davide’s fellow principals were well matched: René Barbera’s Almaviva was a tenor full of youthful heft (the duet All’idea di quel metallo was a gloriously robust affair) and the surprisingly young Georgian baritone Misha Kiria supplied appropriately weighty pettishness to the Pantalone role of Bartolo. Kiria’s fellow-Georgian Nino Machaidze has a powerfully sweet top register and a solid chest voice, but in the middle of the stave she can come across as a little hard-edged – perhaps a little too worldly-sounding for the Rosina role. Julietta Aleksanyan gave us a poignantly sung Il vecchietto cerca moglie in Act 2, and, in the same act, the quintet was nicely blended – Marko Mimica’s Basilio anchoring the others with a satisfying solidity.
The Nederlands Kamerorkest under Maurizio Benini took Rossini’s busy instrumentation in their stride, although the chorus didn’t always manage to keep up on some of the more agile passages.
Lotte de Beer’s direction brought a deal of whimsy to the production – not unwelcome in what is, after all, commedia dell’arte. Almaviva, in his student disguise arrived in a hot-air balloon; the first act ended with a pantomime horse projecting dung into a bucket from the upper window of Bartolo’s mansion, and the mansion itself opened like a doll’s house to allow the indoor scenes to be played. The overture underscored action on stage – Bartolo, in a mise-en-scène of pederasty among the patisserie, selected the young Rosina from among a stageful of dancing cupcakes presided over by a giant Marie-Antoinette. And it is here that de Beer’s whimsy went too far, sadly, creating resonances that were too heavy-handed. Picking up on the opening scene, the final act closed with the mansion in flames, Figaro and Bartolo ranged with a group of tricolore-waving sans-culottes, and the Count and Countess’s wedding conducted by a skeleton. Yes, we are aware that Beaumarchais participated in the Revolution; but he’s subtler than that – as the subsequent two plays, with their satirical take on social order, demonstrate. Besides, albeit that Beaumarchais’ trilogy is full of French sensibility, the plays are set in non-Revolutionary Spain: the clue is in the title of this one. The other jarring note that took the opera to a far darker place than its music suggests, was Bartolo’s rape of Rosina (after her agreeing to marriage) in Act 2. Neither Beaumarchais, Sterbini (who adapted the play for Rossini) nor Rossini himself call for this. There is always a dark undercurrent to commedia dell’arte, but this is acknowledged in its small grotesqueries; to unbalance it – even in the name of making a topical (and undoubtedly serious point) – came across as gauche.