Il Barbiere di Siviglia
Salzburger Festspiele

Reviewer's rating

Every exceptional opera performance has at least one scene that continues to resonate in one’s mind for hours and occasionally days after the experience. Such is the case with this production of Rossini’s opera buffa, Il Barbiere Di Siviglia, performed at the 2022 Salzburg Summer Festival. The aria “Ah più lieta”, is often omitted but, here, perfectly executed by the gifted Uruguayan tenor Edgardo Rocha as Count Almaviva, in duet with Cecilia Bartoli as Rosina, became an instant hit and resulted in ten minutes of applause and an encore.

Rocha takes some time to warm up to the role but once he is over early jitters, his performance is a showcase of amazing mastery of technique and his well-projected voice allows him to go through the hardest coloratura parts unscathed. He is accompanied by a dream cast.  The exquisite Cecilia Bartoli is in perfect command of her voice. She owns the role of Rosina so much that she can play it convincingly: she is flirtatious, funny, and scheming throughout the performance. Alessandro Corbelli is no less intriguing. He captures the role of Don Bartolo in its complexity: an old tyrant but also a lonely man. Nicola Alaimo sings the histrionic role of Figaro with bursting energy and elegant phrasing, and Ildebrando D’Arcangelo with his deep, velvety bass voice impersonates an ominous Don Basilio and his rendition of the famous aria “la calunnia è un venticello” is one of the highlights of the evening.

Rolando Villazon contributes to this exceptional production by setting up a truly original concept. He translates the opera to the age of silent movies and introduces a silent character, played beautifully by the Italian quick-change artist Arturo Brachetti, in the role of a projectionist who loves watching black and white movies starring his favourite diva Cecilia Bartoli. During the overture, we see projected clips where Bartoli plays the roles of Cleopatra, a nun, or a pirate but when the movie “Once Upon a time in Sevilla” starts, then the singers come out from the screen onto the stage and the fun begins.  Up to the end, the opera stays suspended in a dimension where reality and fiction constantly intertwine with Brachetti always present, sometimes as an observer, sometimes as a rescuer, and sometimes as a therapist. There are also multiple references to the characters of silent movies: Don Basilio is a sort of Nosferatu, and Berta, sung by the sparkling soprano Rebeca Olvera,  recalls Marlene Dietrich. Also, Frankenstein appears at the end of the first act, this character was created by Mary Shelley around the same time as the Barber of Seville premiere.

We see plenty of original ideas throughout the performance. However, these add an extra dimension to the opera without taking anything away or distorting Rossini’s core idea. Irony and playfulness are the leitmotifs of this production up until the disenchanting finale when Rosina is celebrating the happy ending and the Count is already flirting with someone else.

The brilliant musicians of the orchestra Les Musiciens du Prince under the direction of Gianluca Capuano actively participate in what is happening on stage. They cheer, sneer with their instruments, and play extracts of various movie soundtracks during the recitatives.

Definitely a great production that deserved the final standing ovation. Not to be missed