A fine ensemble cast delivers vocal fireworks and plenty of guffaws.
The current Moshe Leiser, Patrice Caurier staging of Rossini’s most popular opera has served The Royal Opera well. The original directors were on hand for this, its fifth revival. And although this was the first time I’d seen this staging, indeed the first time I’ve seen this opera here, the action came across as fresh as a daisy. At no point was there ever a sense of routine about the performance – no surprise really as The Royal Opera had assembled a sensational cast, and a conductor perfectly in tune with Rossini’s musical idiom.
There have been many exciting conducting debuts in the Covent Garden pit in recent seasons, but the arrival of the Venezuelan, Rafael Payare is a particular cause for celebration. I may be in the minority here but for me Rossini is a known quantity. I don’t readily warm to those endless ‘rum-ti-tum’ accompaniments, or famous ‘Rossini crescendos’, yet under Payare’s keen direction what seemed trite in the past came across as inventive – newly minted even. His reading was swift, and he drew immaculate playing from the orchestra. With so much rapid-fire singing, and intricate ensemble work you need a conductor who has an impeccable command of stage and pit – something Payare had in spades.
For an ensemble work such as this, you need a group of singers who can work in synch together, play off each other, and create dramatic sparks. The one assembled here was as fine a tautly integrated ensemble as I’ve seen. Making his entrance through the Stalls, Polish baritone Andrzej Filończyk was a winning Figaro. Although the opera really revolves around Almaviva and Rosina, he made his mark both dramatically and musically. He possesses a warm, muscular, agile baritone and captured the character’s cheeky nature to perfection.
That doyen of Rossini tenors, Lawrence Brownlee injected much self-deprecating humour into the role of Almaviva, and was particularly hilarious in his myriad disguises. Needless to say, he flung off the florid vocal lines with aplomb, and without batting an eyelid. Bryn Terfel was 24 carat casting as an oleaginous Basilio, adding yet another comedic role to his rogues’ gallery. His vivid rendition of ‘La Calunnia’ was one of the evening’s indisputable vocal highlights.
“…The Royal Opera had assembled a sensational cast, and a conductor perfectly in tune with Rossini’s musical idiom”
As the put upon Bartolo, Fabio Capitanucci delivered a masterclass in patter singing, and as the only native Italian singer in the cast, relished and pointed the text like a pro. It’s very easy for this role to descend into caricature, but Capitanucci created a believable, even at times sympathetic, character.
As his ward, Rosina, Aigul Akhmetshina was nothing short of a revelation. She’s been garnering five-star notices wherever she’s performed, and having seen this hugely talented Russian mezzo-soprano for the first time it’s not hard to see why. Even across a formidable range, her smoky, bronzed voice is the perfect fit for this role. Her faultless, bravura rendition of ‘Una voce poco fa’, was quite simply spellbinding, and she embodied the character’s petulance to a tee. Her star is most definitely in the ascendant – she reminded me of a young Marilyn Horne, and there can be no greater praise than that. Her Charlotte in Werther this summer should prove to be unmissable.
With a strong cast of comprimarios – most notably Ailish Tynan’s thrillingly sung Berta – this was a thoroughly satisfying revival. We could all do with a good laugh these days and luckily this Barber delivers plenty.
• For information on future performances, visit here.