Quincena Musical San Sebastián 2011 – An imaginative Barbiere that doesn’t quite work

SpainSpain G. Rossini, Il Barbiere di Siviglia: Soloists, Euskadi Symphony Orchestra, Easo Choir. Andrés Orozco- Estrada (Conductor). San Sebastian’s Auditorio Kursaal. 8.8.2011. (JMI)

New Production: El Escorial Festival and Quincena Musical de San Sebastián Original production from Freiburg Theater.

Direction: Joan Anton Rechi
Sets, Costumes and Lighting: Rifail Ajdarpasic, Ariane Isabelle Unfried and Ricardo Sánchez Cuerda.


Figaro: Pietro Spagnoli
Rosina: Manuela Custer
Count Almaviva: José Manuel Zapata
Doctor Bartolo: Andrew Shore
Don Basilio: Lorenzo Regazzo
Berta: Marta Ubieta
Fiorello: Tomeu Bibiloni

The San Sebastian Musical Theatre Quincena (“Fortnight”) is now on its 72nd season and seems still in good health. As usual, at least in the last few years, they have programmed one opera; this year Rossini’s ll Barbiere di Siviglia.

The production is Joan Anton Rechi’s, which apparently had its premiere in Freiburg four years ago. It’s been adapted, since, though, and was announced as a new production, premiered last month at El Escorial, near Madrid.

It’s an imaginative production, although in many cases it seriously impedes the musical development of the opera. At the beginning of the opera a TV presenter appears on stage, explaining that we are going to attend the shooting of the last chapter of the soap opera titled Almaviva. This TV hostess will sing later Berta’s aria, although she never assumes this character, which in fact does not exist in this production. Being a film set, there are many extras on stage: lighting technicians, makeup professionals, cameras, etc. etc. Orders of “Cut!” were frequent, along with lighting changes. These constant interruptions of the singers created an atmosphere of artificiality that didn’t help one to enter into the plot of the opera.

For the second act the film we are moved into a television studio where we can watch a reality show replete with commercials and final prizes. It works halfway. The audience had a very good time at the end of the first act in a scene of collective madness and hilarious stage movements. Unfortunately the business on stage collides with the music by Rossini: the famous concertante that closes the first act was impossible to conduct from the podium and the soloists could hardly be heard at all, except for the high notes from Berta. These director’s touches added here and there, but subtracted substantially elsewhere, particularly during the scene of the music lesson. The audience loved the finale, though, when the whole cast danced the Macarena to Rossini’s music.

Colombian Andres Orozco-Estrada, musical director of the Euskadi Symphony Orchestra, conducted. I was keen to see this maestro conducting opera, having heard good things about his recent operatic work in Germany. My interest was followed by disappointment. Conducting a Rossini opera buffa is much harder than it seems and Orozoco-Estrada did not live up to expectations. The overture was heavy handed, and the tempi that followed never conveyed any liveliness. I do not blame him for the musical mess at the end of the first act, which was impossible to control, but the performance of the orchestral parts known as ‘The Tempest’ would have been his to straighten out. There were also problems with the orchestra itself, which sounded under-rehearsed.

Pietro Spagnoli was a correct Figaro, but nothing more. The same can be said of Manuela Custer, a good interpreter with a pleasant voice, bringing her character alive, but rather too short at the low end of her vocal range. José Manuel Zapata as Count Almaviva, the true protagonist of the opera, did outstanding work on stage, perhaps excessively so. Singing was another matter: From his “Ecco Ridente” on, he offered too many pitch problems. The voice has widened much and he does not seem to be as comfortable in Rossini as he was for years. British bass Andrew Shore, a fine actor, sang Doctor Bartolo with an unattractive voice and I wasn’t sure if he was singing his aria “A un dottor della mia sorte” in Italian or another language. Lorenzo Regazzo offered an acceptable Don Basilio, though the character requires more volume and more fun. Among the secondary characters I should mention Marta Ubieta, the TV hostess that gave such an excellent interpretation of Berta’s aria.

José Mª Irurzun