When Barber was last seen at Glyndebourne, this new production’s Rosina was a toddler and its Almaviva and Figaro were as yet unborn. It seems a pity that after such a time gap it was not possible to mount a production with even half as much verve as these three young singers displayed: they practically turned themselves inside out to make their recitative snappy, as did the veteran Bartolo and Berta and the house debutant Basilio (he was probably just a twinkle in his dad’s eye in 1982 as well) but all their hard work barely raised a chuckle – in fact, there were many more laughs in the previous night’s Meistersinger.
Björn Bürger’s Figaro was the audience favourite, and rightly so; like all the others he could have done with more direction, but he still managed to present an endearing rogue and to sing with bright, supple tone – this was one Barber who was not upstaged by his ’employer,’ which in itself is an achievement. Almaviva was Taylor Stayton, well known to Glyndebourne audiences after his Ramiro in the 2012 Cenerentola, and he too sang eloquently, negotiating his showy music with taste and sweetness of tone.
Danielle de Niese is a natural for Rosina, although this was her debut in a Rossini role, and she gave the kind of absolutely committed performance which we’ve come to expect from her, but like the rest of the cast she seemed often to be left to her own devices. Some might want more depth to the timbre, and a more effervescent display in terms of the coloratura, but she produced her customary silvery tone and negotiated ‘Una voce poco fa’ very stylishly. Her guardian was in the capable hands of the great Alessandro Corbelli, a singing actor who has reduced us to tears of laughter on more than one occasion, but despite singing with his expected warmth and colour his role did not make the expected impact.
Reviewing Christophoros Stamboglis in a small role in Grange Park’s Samson et Dalila we remarked that we wished to hear more of his ‘lustrous, burnished bass’ so it was a joy to encounter him here as Don Basilio, even though, like everyone else on stage, he seemed to be doing his own thing in terms of characterization. We’ve yet to hear Janis Kelly sing a wrong note, so in musical terms she was a fine Berta, but the antics she was given left us feeling embarrassed. Huw Montague Rendall, one of five 2016 Jerwood Young Artists, was an engaging Fiorello and Adam Marsden, another member of the Glyndebourne Chorus, was an enjoyably flustered Officer.
The Chorus, as ever, sang with gusto and incisiveness, and the London Philharmonic Orchestra gave a sparkling account of the score under Enrique Mazzola. No problems there, but the staging let both the orchestra and the singers down. According to the programme, the design was what seemed to them to be redolent of Spain – given that half the backdrop was William de Morgan’s Weaver Birds (English, Arts & Crafts) and the rest sort-of Moorish / Spanish tile patterns, and most of the props were harpsichords and a few oranges, it did not evoke sunny Seville to our eyes. Pretty enough, but not a coherent whole. There were some beautiful costumes – but then, in what would de Niese not look fabulous? – but that’s not enough to compensate for a staging that’s hardly ever as funny as it should be. The singing, of course, is what makes it worthwhile, especially in terms of the Count and the Barber himself.