Madrid Opera Season Opens with Disappointing Barbiere

SpainSpain G. Rossini: Il Barbiere di Siviglia, Teatro Real Orchestra and Chorus, Tomas Hanus (conductor), Madrid Teatro Real 25 & 26.9.2013 (JMI)

Teatro Real in coproduction with Lisbon’s Teatro Sao Carlos.
Direction: Emilio Sagi
Sets: Llorenç Corbella
Costumes: Renata Schussheim
Lighting: Eduardo Bravo

Figaro: Mario Cassi/Levente Molnar
Rosina: Serena Malfi/Ana Durlovsky
Almaviva: Dmitry Korchak/Edgardo Rocha
Dottor Bartolo: Bruno de Simone/Jose Fardilha
Don Basilio: Carlo Lepore
Berta: Susana Cordón
Fiorello: Isaac Galán
Officer: José Carlos Marino

 I must admit to having doubts about choosing this Rossini opera to open the season in an important house, but if it is decided to go ahead with Il Barbiere the production needs to be outstanding. Sadly, Gerard Mortier – currently battling on many fronts, both personal and professional – has programmed a Barber of Seville in which nothing struck me as being worthy of opening a season. This was a revival of a well known  production, with musical direction which was lacking in true Rossini style, and with a cast dominated by less than sensational singers.

These performances had two different casts and if, in the first, there was no alleviation from a sense of mediocracy, there was no discernible improvement in the second. Some novelty lay in using the version for soprano, as happened in 2005, but this time without  the aria Ah, se è ver che in tal momento that Rossini took from Sigismondo for soprano Josephine Fodor-Mainville. I must confess that I prefer the traditional version for mezzo soprano, unless you have an outstanding soprano at your disposal, which was not the case in Madrid.

Emilio Sagi’s production had its premiere in this theater when he was the artistic director of the house, although he was surprisingly fired a few days later. Almost 9 years have passed since then and his work has been seen in different houses during this time.

Mr. Sagi’s work is good, if not truly outstanding. The production is characterized by constant movement of sets for the different scenes. The sets are always in white or gray and do not have much originality or appeal. The costumes also move  between black and white,  with some buffo details, until in the final scene the whole thing becomes an explosion of color, which is definitely the best part of the whole production.

The stage direction is somewhat irregular, with some attractive moments. Some parts of the original production have been removed in this revival, particularly the entrance of La Forza at the end of act I.

The Czech Tomas Hanus is one of the best conductors from his country and he is, not surprisingly, best known for Czech opera. I have had the opportunity to enjoy his excellent conducting of Jenufa and Rusalka, but Il Barbiere di Siviglia has nothing in common with them. Not only that, if one looks at his performances in major theaters in recent years Rossini has never featured and he was largely responsible for this performance’s over-controlled monotony. From the overture it was clear what we could expect from his baton.

How much I missed Albetto Zedda or Jean-Christophe Spinosi! Mr. Hanus had everything under control, but a buffo opera by Rossini needs more than that.

The orchestra remains at the remarkable level it achieved last year and the same is true for the chorus.

Nine years ago, the Teatro Real had the presence of Juan Diego Florez and María Bayo, then at their peak.  It is very usual in opera to look back nostalgically, often with little justification, but in this case the difference was huge.

The presence of Mario Cassi as Figaro is an error of casting that should not have occurred, since his voice had already been heard at Teatro Real and he  performed the same role in Valencia last year. This singer seems to have no goal other than displaying his sonorous voice, giving a recital of open and coarse sounds, forgetting the need for elegance and refinement.

Romanian baritone Levente Molnar was much more convincing in the second cast. His baritone is smooth and attractive and well handled, and he has enough stage skill to be persuasive. He was not an exceptional Figaro, but he was a very reliable one.

Serena Malfi was a Rosina of little interest. The voice is fine, but short of color, her singing falling into monotony – quite apart from showing little affinity to buffo opera.

Soprano Ana Durlovski was hardly convincing. Hers is a very light soprano which is very tiny in size. With this instrument she can do little with this role. She has no problems at the top and she has no problem with the agilities, but her middle range is rather poor and it is not easy for her to reach the audience.

Dmitry Korchak had the handicap of fighting with the memory of Juan Diego Flórez in the character of Count Almaviva. This is a losing battle for any tenor. He gave a good performance, but  there is also excessive monotony in his singing. He included the rondó Cessa di piú resistere, in which he was at his very best.

Edgardo Rocha is a light tenor, smaller in size than Mr.Korchak, who moves well on stage. He included also the final rondo, where his coloratura was somewhat laborious.

Bruno De Simone repeated his very funny Doctor Bartolo. There can be little doubt that he is one of the best interpreters of this character today.

I do not, however, understand the presence of Joseph Fardilha in the second cast. He has  little to offer in this genre and his Bartolo was rather boring.

Carlo Lepore was well-suited to the part of Don Basilio and Susana Cordón made an outstanding Berta, the best I have seen on stage since Jeannete Fischer some years ago.

José Mª Irurzun