Il Barbiere di Seviglia

Reviewer's rating

Five stars are not sufficient for probably the best production I have ever seen! Its debut was last year in Salzburg and will undoubtedly be revived again, see it if you can!

This production confirms Barbiere’s reputation as the greatest operatic comedy.

Rolando Villazón, ex-tenor/now baritone/producer’s exceptional production brings every joke, funny line, action, to the stage in a way not done before. The better you know the score, and understand Italian, French and Spanish, the funnier it is. 

The overture launches into the world of 1930’s black and white cinema; the projectionist is the No.1 fan of cinema star, Ceci B. Artoli, (double joke, Cecil B DeMille/ Bartoli is known as Ceci) Clips from her movies as swashbuckling pirate, unhappy nun, and Cleopatra project on the back of the stage. Characters appear from different movies. The ‘boss’ arrives, cuts bits out of the film and the cut characters die.  Zorro whips off his mask becoming Almaviva. The projectionist is a useful silent character in the opera. Every note is choreographed with perfect comic timing, bits of film music filter through briefly, in keeping with the production, and musical and physical jokes abound. The opera lasts longer than usual- the first act was 110 minutes, but it is so good, nobody noticed. Everyone smiled from beginning to end. 

Italian superstar mezzo, Cecilia Bartoli, first sang Rosina in Rome 35 years ago at 19. Nobody in the world comes close to her Rosina. The coloratura is perfect, she is glorious to watch and her luscious warm mezzo timbre proves why it is ridiculous and wrong to cast a soprano as Rosina (or Carmen), whoever they are. Rosina was not written for a soprano who is forced to add high cadenzas to camouflage a thin bottom register, unnecessary if you have the correct voice to begin with. 

Uruguayan Edgardo Rocha’s Almaviva is good-looking, tall, athletic, with a terrific voice, and coloratura. Following Florez’ footsteps, Rocha uses flamenco style for the middle verse of ‘se il mio nome’, Bartoli accompanying with castanets. His second act ‘pace, gioa’ scene is hilarious, Rocha dropping to his knees fervently praying in South American Spanish every time Bartolo gets suspicious.  The 10-minute rondo finale, usually a tour de force for Almaviva while Rosina is mute, is musically rewritten as a duet for Almaviva and Bartoli, each repeating each other. It is not what Rossini wrote, but it works. (Rossini duplicated this music for Cenerentola’s rondo finale ‘non piu mesta’)

Italian baritone Nicola Alaima is a towering, warm-voiced Figaro. One understands every word, every double consonant, used perfectly to move the music forward.  Alaima sends up his size by getting stuck in a chair or having problems picking up things from the floor.

Italian veteran baritone Alessandro Corbelli as Dr. Bartolo, sings ‘Un dottor della mia sorte’ faster than I have ever heard, ‘collapsing’ afterwards, checking his heart with his stethoscope! The brilliant scene, when Almaviva never gets Bartolo’s name right (Baroldo, Bertoldo), is taken an amusing step further when, flustered he introduces himself as Dr. Bartoli – a glance to Ceci, and he corrects it to Bartolo. It was a joke waiting to happen, just a question of when. 

Russian bass Ildar Abdrazakov still sings in Russia; he cancelled his last performance La Scala Boris to sing on Russian TV on 1st January 2023 when rockets were blitzing Kiev and was seen dancing with Putin’s war crime defence minister. His Met performances have been cancelled. 

His camps up an evil Basilio/Nosferatu with Bella Lugosi ears, and long fingernails, showing off his wonderful big voice.

Mexican soprano Rebeca Olvera’s Bertha (dressed more like Orlovsky than a maid) sang dazzling high cadenzas, too high for a mezzo who often sings Berta. Bolivian bass José Coca Loza is an excellent Fiorello. 

THE TWIST. How do the loved-up Rosina/Almaviva in Barbiere become the unhappy Countess (‘dove sono’)/philandering Count in Figaro? Villazón introduces current paramours at the wedding! An Oslo production I saw last year went further, Almaviva chasing anything in a skirt from the beginning.  A sad ending to the love story. 

Conductor Capuano conducted exquisitely; after a lengthy standing ovation, we were treated to a repeat number.