Triumphant Barber at Opera på Skäret

SwedenSweden Rossini: Il barbiere di Siviglia. Soloists, The Opera på Skäret Chorus, Swedish Chamber Orchestra, Andreas Lönnqvist (conductor) at Opera på Skäret, Kopparberg, Sweden. 9.8.2013. Premiere I (GF)

Rosina – Liine Carlsson
Almaviva – Dominique Moralez
Figaro – Pavel Yankovsky
Bartolo – Robert Hyman
Basilio – Liudas Mikalauskas
Notary – Jonatan Lönnqvist
Il Tedesco – Jonatan Lönnqvist
Berta – Catarina Lundgren
Fiorello – Peter Haeggström
Bishop – Peter Haeggström

Stage Director: Alexander Niclasson
Set Designer: Sven Östberg
Costume Designer: Anna Kjellsdotter
Choreography: Carina Jarlemark
Lighting Design: Kevin Wyn-Jones

What! No overture? A natural first reaction when Opera på Skäret’s first comic opera kicks off. But be patient! It isn’t cut out but it appears after the first scene (with Almaviva’s serenade) as backdrop to a pantomimic scene introducing us to Doctor Bartolo in nightshirt and with a frightening blunderbuss, keeping watch outside his barred house. And this is not the only departure from Rossini’s original. There are textual adjustments, new recitatives, even a wholly new character: a choleric German singing-master (Il Tedesco) who is kind of assistant to Almaviva when he appears as substitute for Don Basilio for Rosina’s singing-lesson in act II. He teaches her – and us – the principles for bel canto singing, something that for director Alexander Niclasson is a central theme in this production. Il Tedesco later seduces Bartolo’s housekeeper Berta – off stage of course! Add to this innumerable little – and big – gags, jokes, choreographic exercises and slapstick humour and the ‘serious’ opera-lover probably asks: Isn’t this violation on an established masterpiece?

No! Emphatically no! Il barbiere di Siviglia may be a musical masterwork but the whole story is so improbable – as almost all the old buffo operas are – and in particular the long, even overlong scene with Almaviva disguised as a drunken soldier, so absurd that the only way of presenting it to a modern audience is to turn the screw a half rev further and turn it into a surrealist happening. In fact the whole production is a wonder of high spirits, infectious tempo, inventiveness, superb acting, ebullience and – vide Alexander Niclasson – first class singing! I have seen restowings of standard operas before but none so elegant and amusing and entertaining. The sets are, as usual at Skäret, simple but efficient and decorative, costumes and props fanciful and lighting evocative. Alexander Niclasson and his team have backed the right horse!

In the pit this time is the Swedish Chamber Orchestra, today one of the leading ensembles in Europe, garnering rave reviews everywhere, not least for their CD series of Beethoven’s complete orchestral works. They are just as apt when it comes to Rossini’s mercurial and virtuoso music: springy rhythms, luminous textures, brilliant instrumental solos. Andreas Lönnqvist has a firm grip on the proceedings. The male singers of the Opera på Skäret Chorus also make laudable contributions, whether it be as street musicians in the opening scene, policemen or holy monks from the Vatican – and we don’t bother an iota why the hell (sorry!) they are in Seville.

Vocally they are also impressive, and so are all the soloists. Liine Carlsson made a deep impression some years ago as Nedda in I Pagliacci and as Rosina she is truly winning, tossing off some stratospheric high notes with ease. Catarina Lundgren is a real theatre buff and steals the show every time she appears. Her flower allergy that makes her sneeze violently is, I guess, something borrowed from the other Barbiere, the one written some twenty years earlier by Paisiello. Dominique Moralez’s Almaviva has both honey and metal in his flexible voice, somewhat reminding me of Luigi Alva, who was the great Almaviva of the 50s, 60s and early 70s. His coloratura technique is amazing and his ability to stagger around as a boozer without falling into the pit hair-raising. The young Byelorussian baritone Pavel Yankovsky has the charisma to make Figaro an ideal factotum with his elegant appearance and dark-tinted voice – as he should in his own opera. But it is still Robert Hyman who is the real heavyweight in this company. His timing, his telling body-language, his marvellous vocal resources, from stupendous patter-song in his big aria to hilarious falsetto in the singing-lesson – all these assets combine to make him an ideal Bartolo. The young Lithuanian bass Liudas Mikalauskas is a properly demonic Basilio in his La calunnia aria and he also turns out to be a virtuoso dancer. Peter Haeggström, doubling as Fiorello and a Bishop makes much of little and Jonatan Lönnqvist is another show-stealer as the quite improbable Il Tedesco.

This production is another triumph for Opera på Skäret, this year celebrating their tenth anniversary, an possibly surpasses even last year’s Lucia di Lammermoor. Everyone concerned should feel proud of this production.

Göran Forsling