Rossini Opera Festival (4): Outwitting Wit

ItalyItaly ROF (4) Rossini, Il Barbiere di Siviglia.   Production by the Accademia di Belle Arti di Urbino.  San Carlo Chorus of Pesaro Chorus Master, Salvatore Francavilla.  Orchestra of Teatro Comunale, Bologna Conductor Giacomo Sagripanti, Teatro Rossini, Pesaro. 20.08.2014 (JB)

Count Almaviva        Juan Francisco Gatell
Bartolo                                       Paolo Bordogna
Rosina                                           Chiara Amarù
Figaro                                        Florian Sempey
Basilio                                           Alex Esposito
Berta                                   Felicia Bongiovanni

Can farce outwit wit? I would have thought the two arts were mutually exclusive until I saw the boys and girls of the Accademia di Belle Arti have a damned good try with their Barbiere di Siviglia.  Their programme accreditation says ideazione, progettazione, elementi scenici, movimenti di regia, video e costumi.  Quite a handful.  But I know from some of their previous ROF productions that their hands are remarkably capable.  And yes, this is a hands-on teamsmanship.  Does that word exist?  If it doesn’t, it does now.  It’s allowed because it is  much in the spirit of what they do.

When Rosina sings [una voce poco fa] she is thinking aloud about herself and says, io sono docile, sono rispettosa, sono obbediente, dolce, amarosa.  [I’m easy-going, respectable, obedient, sweet, loving.]  She’s surely being ironic.  Or is she?  There is more than a hint of irony in Rossini’s music.  Take that or leave it.  Chiara Amarù (age twenty-eight, Palermitana) leaves it. Shocking!  Rossini’s irony goes out of the window.  No giggly girlishness.  Ms Amarù has a very attractive mezzo voice with a beautifully dark hue.  In her reading of the score this is what Rosina would like to be.  There is a studied sincerity in her delivery.  And sincerity can have no truck with irony.  But words and music then take another turn and the lady faces up to her real self: Ma se mi toccano, dov’è il mio debole, sarò una vipera, e cento trappole prima di cedere farrò giocar [But touch my weakspot and I become a viper; I’ll play a hundred tricks before I give in.]  There is usually an accelerando here.  But this young woman puts the breaks on.  Shocking in its very intelligence.  Chiara Amarù is a pleasingly plump young lass and the Accademia have put her in a formal black dress just to show how “correct” she is.  There’s irony for you.  But you can see how all this irony is flirting on the boundaries of farce to whom it doesn’t usually speak.  Wit maybe?

Alberto Zedda (Artistic Director of ROF and Editor in Chief of the Fondzione Rossini’s new critical edition of the Barbiere score ) reminds us in a detailed programme note that the opera first saw the light of day on 20 February 1816 at the Teatro Argentina in Rome with the title, Almaviva o sia l’inutil precauzione [Almaviva or rather, The Useless Precaution].  Count Almaviva soon took second place, however.  And most critics agree with Maestro Zedda that the real protagonist of the opera is Figaro.

That is indisputably true of the present production.  The ROF have found in the young French baritone, Florian Sempey, the perfect singer-actor for Figaro.  He comes through the audience in his opening number.  And as he flips it out Largo al Factotum della Città-  with its breathtaking, doubling speeds, he also takes possession of the audience.   After that, no need to ask: he knows  -and we know!- the opera is his.  He is the likeable buffoon who knows how to make you think one thing while he is plotting another.  The Sempey version puts the Barber’s intelligence in first place.  But not in any obvious way.  Concealing intelligence is the finest way to evidence it.  But it takes a very great actor to put that across.  Sempey does.  Every word is measured without seeming to be measured.  Every show-stopping moment tossed off with impudent ease: a kind of improvisational air.

Count Almaviva is a worthy rival for our attention and with a different set of qualities.  Whether Juan Francisco Gatell is heroically serenading his lover, clowning as a singing teacher or asserting his nobility with Figaro, he is body and soul into the part.  Much of this role too is about knowing how an actor acts the part of an actor. Gatell has all that finesse.  You see him revelling in the sheer fun of the double take: a perfect singer-actor to work with the Accademia.  The Count’s show-stopping aria at the end of the opera, does just that –cessa di più resistere.  The aria was always cut because of its unreasonable demands until Florez compelled La Scala to reintroduce it.  –Well anything Juan Diego can do, Juan Francisco is never far behind.  His ovation confirmed this.

Paolo Bordogna is Italy’s most renowned bass buffo and his po-faced Bartolo (both of voice and expression) was a delight.  It was a pleasure to show our appreciation after his nicely paced –A un Dottor della mia sorte  at the end of Act One.  Alex Esposito was equally skilled in the opera’s other study of dim-wittedness, Don Basilio: La calunnia  shook the theatre’s rafters.

The Orchestra of Teatro Comunale of Bologna are used to playing Rossini but perhaps never so neatly and so seemingly effortlessly as they did under Giacomo Sagripanti’s baton.     Watch out for the name of this young conductor.  More especially if you live in Paris.  He’s imminently about to be heard at the Opéra Bastille, conducting this same opera.

Jack Buckley

3 thoughts on “Rossini Opera Festival (4): Outwitting Wit”

  1. It is not the case that “cessa di piu resistere” was always cut before Floez reintroduced it. A quick check of Youtube shows a lovely performance by Rockwell Blake. the problem is that this myth compels tenors to sing the area just to show they can.

  2. Opera conosciuta ed amata in tutto il mondo!!!.grande Rossini!!!Eccellente recensione. complimenti Jack!!!
    saluti Loredana


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