Opera + Classical Music Reviews

Prom 14: Il Barbiere di Siviglia @ Royal Albert Hall, London

25 July 2016

Prom 14

Danielle de Niese, Björn Bürger, Taylor Stayton & Janis Kelly
(Photo: Chris Christodoulou)

Glyndebourne Festival Opera’s annual visit to the BBC Proms is always an object lesson in semi-staging, something that’s all too often an euphemism for an under-rehearsed line-up on the concert platform. By all accounts, the sets for their new Barbiere di Sivigilia are best left in Sussex, but almost everything else was crammed onto the narrow platform of the Royal Albert Hall and a mid-run outing, with slick performances still as fresh as a daisy, proved highly advantageous for something as fluid as Rossini’s nimble comedy. You always get a full flavor of the production in these Glyndebourne transfers, and this one included extraneous characters carrying out slapstick routines and highly stylized cavortings that didn’t add a great deal but really tested the limitations of space and taste. All very good if you like your comedy broad and clearly signaled, and this was certainly a crowd-pleasing approach.

What made this a frothy and cooling delight on another warm and sticky Summer evening was a fizzing performance by the London Philharmonic under Enrique Mazzola and some splendid singing from a top-class cast, clearly having  a ball. Rosina seems a completely obvious choice of role for Danielle de Niese, although this is surprisingly her first foray into the Rossini repertoire. Her portrayal is easily anticipated, as is that of Alessandro Corbelli as her blustering would-be husband Bartolo. Both are squarely in their field of comfort, and we’ve seen these charactizations so often from both artists, but it has to said they do what they do extremely well. 

Prom 14

Björn Bürger & Alessandra Corbelli
(Photo: Chris Christodoulou)

Altogether fresher, and wonderfully stylish vocally, are German baritone Björn Bürger and American tenor Taylor Stanton in the roles of Figaro and Almaviva respectively. They are both on absolutely sparkling form, showing class, energy and an irrepressible sense of fun. Bürger is handsome and virile as the wily barber and, having already played Mozart’s Don Giovanni, he’s a singer whose Figaro could easily have a dark edge. One couldn’t help think of Sweeney Todd when he was play-acting with the shaving foam on Corbelli’s exposed throat but he never diverted from the agenda and kept the mood light and bubbly all evening.

Stanton has impressed at Glyndebourne before – a highly memorable turn in the last revival of La Cenerentola lingers in the memory – and he’s on tremendous form again as the love-struck count. His ‘drunk’ acting doesn’t fully explore the comic possibilities but he’s always on the button with his expressive and sweet singing. Veteran Janis Kelly certainly pleased the house with her show-stopping aria late in the day and Christophoros Stamboglis was a rich and booming Don Basilio, with some adept comic twists. Whether you like their Keystone Kops bumblings or not, the Glyndebourne Chorus were on great form vocally.

Director Annabel Arden’s over-busy business works hard to get the laughs and doesn’t succeed quite as well as it would like, while for this occasion stage director Sinéad O’Neill’s added still further embellishments. Perhaps there was a bit too much banter with conductor and orchestra but everyone was there for a bit of fun, so it seems curmudgeonly to carp. 

An extra aria put in for De Niese seemed unnecessary and the evening was beginning to seem quite long by that time. Minor gripes apart, though, this was a tonic for the Proms audience, who have a chance to experience Rossini’s seria side a little later in the season with a concert performance of the grandiose Semiramide.

Our review of the production at Glyndebourne can be found here: il-barbiere-di-siviglia

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