Boring Barbiere in Valenica

SpainSpain G. Rossini, Il barbiere di Siviglia: Soloists, Orchestra Comunitat Valenciana, Chorus Generalitat Valenciana, Omer Meir Wellber (conductor), Palau de Les Arts, Valencia, 6.3.2013 (JMI)

Production: Grand Théâtre de Genève

Direction: Damiano Michieletto (original), Andreas Zimmermann (revival)
Sets: Paolo Fantin
Costumes: Silvia Aymonino
Lighting: Fabio Barettin

Figaro: Mario Cassi
Rosina: Silvia Vázquez
Count Almaviva: Edgardo Rocha
Doctor Bartolo: Marco Camastra
Don Basilio: Paata Burchuladze
Berta: Marina Rodríguez-Cusí
Fiorello: Mattia Olivieri
Sergeant: Fernando Piqueras

Despite Damiano Michieletto’s interesting production, this Barber of Seville was not successful. Musically there was little of the lightness and joy which is so necessary in the Rossini buffo opera and, on top of this, the cast was not very good, with most singers unsuited to their roles.

Damiano Michieletto has, in just a short time, become one of the most sought-after stage directors. His productions are usually full of color and imagination, often moving the action to modern times but staying faithful to both music and libretto. As far as The Barber of Seville goes it should be noted that he has two different versions in production. This Valencia version came from Geneva—via St. Etienne—where it was premiered in 2010 and revived again a few months ago. The second production has been performed in several Italian cities this year, but has not been well received in every theatre.

In Valencia the action took place in a popular neighborhood in Seville with a revolving stage showing on one side a façade with windows and balconies, and on the other Don Bartolo’s appartment with three floors, like a doll house with stairs connecting the different levels. The costumes are modern and colorful, especially for the young Rosina and her beloved Lindoro, who is also in love with motorcycles and high-priced automobiles.

The stage direction is lively with fast changes of scene, although sometimes the rooms are too crowded. There are excellent gags, such as the aria of La Calunnia, with Don Basilio throwing leaflets to the crowd, or the Berta, a nicotine, alcohol, and sex addict. Almaviva and “”La Forza” recall the Spanish Civil Guard, Ambrogio’s mute character is the porter of the building. The production makes good use of neighbors on the balconies watching what happens down in the street. It is all very original and amusing.

Where things didn’t work was in the pit: I have heard the young Omer Meir Wellber in different repertoire several times and his performances have always been good, if not exceptional. But I’m afraid light Rossini is not his specialty. There was no sparkle, grace, or lightness, and without all this Rossini can get boring. Some people believe that this kind of opera is very simple to conduct, and that all that is needed is to accompany the singers. This is a big mistake. Rossini’s scores are among the most difficult to conduct, especially in the buffo repertoire.
The orchestra was good, but not up to the level that can be expected from them.

Mario Cassi as Figaro proved to be out of his depths. It seemed that his only interest was in producing open sounds, as if he feared being unable to reach the audience. Silvia Vázquez—a soprano—as Rosina struggled with a part written for contralto coloratura. When there is an exceptional singer with great coloraturas and top notes, then it’s justifiable to cast a soprano. Unfortunately that is not the case with Silvia Vázquez. Her soprano is unremarkable and while the notes are all there, in her high register they don’t sound attractive.

Edgardo Rocha was the best of the cast, which isn’t saying much, and was the best suited to his character. His voice is not particularly beautiful, but he is a good singer. He had the guts to sing the final rondo, though his coloratura was laborious. Marco Camastra as Doctor Bartolo had little in the way of voice or stage presence. His acting was routine, which is a big problem when playing this buffo character. Veteran Paata Burchuladze (62) was a Don Basilio in decline. His voice has become too dry and now there is little but pure volume, which was sometimes rather unpleasant. Marina Rodríguea Cusí was a disappointing Berta in vocal terms. Nor was she funny in her aria, which she finished with a real—presumably unintentional—scream.

José Mª Irurzun