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L’inutile produzione

Théâtre des Champs-Elysées
12/05/2017 -  & December 6, 8, 10, 11, 13, 14, 16*, 2017
Gioachino Rossini : Il barbiere di Siviglia, ossia L’inutile precauzione
Michele Angelini*/Elgan Llŷr Thomas (Il Conte Almaviva), Florian Sempey*/Guillaume Andrieux (Figaro), Catherine Trottmann*/Alix Le Saux (Rosina), Peter Kálmán*/Pablo Ruiz (Bartolo), Robert Gleadow*/Guilhem Worms (Basilio), Annunziata Vestri*/Eléonore Pancrazi (Berta), Guillaume Andrieux*/Louis de Lavignère (Fiorello)
Chœur Unikanti, Gaël Darchen (Chorus Master), Le Cercle de l’Harmonie, Jérémie Rhorer (Conductor)
Laurent Pelly (Stage Director, Set Design, Costumes), Cléo Laigret (Assistant Set Design), Jean-Jacques Delmotte (Assistant Costume Designer), Joël Adam (Lighting)

(© Vincent Pontet)

Changing the epoch and the setting of an opera or a play can offer new insight. However, ideally, something should be gained from the change. Sadly, this Paris production offered no fresh understanding of Rossini’s opera by setting the opera in a not particularly Spanish setting, and in the present day. How can one justify a present-day sequestering of a young girl by her guardian or an army division feigning the requisition of a private home? This incongruity is more flagrant when nothing is gained from the adaptation. The use of huge cardboard sheet music as a backdrop was ill-advised. It was a poor attempt to reference music, but why? Surely concertgoers know they are attending a musical event, and not a chess game or a football match. Though unnecessary, the sheet music was aesthetically pleasing to an extent, and the agile sheet-thin sets were practical for changes of scenery. However, the drab black and white costumes were uninspired and deflated the spirit from Rossini’s joyous work.

The cast was for the most part a strong one, vocally, but the inter-personal dynamics between the central trio of Rosina, Count Almaviva and Figaro were distorted by stage director Laurent Pelly’s limited vision. A tattooed, shabbily-dressed Figaro was made to look and act like an unsympathetic ruffian, an unlikely incarnation of the subtle and smart valet-to-be to Count Almaviva. The Count was presented as an immature weakling whose only resource is a deep purse, yet his all-too-ready laughter fell flat. This is not believable for a man who then pulls off the opera’s two disguised con-jobs with aplomb, and who is later to become The Marriage of Figaro’s overbearing, domineering and womanizing spouse. As for Rosina, who is supposed to be a charming but shrewd ingénue, it made little sense to present her as a charmless tomboy in leggings, whose constant idiotic dance and gymnastics moves grated. If Count Almaviva were blind, it might explain his attraction. As if these problems plaguing the production weren’t sufficient, there is also the improbable premise that Rosina would be attracted to a milksop. Thankfully, Pelly had no illuminating visions for the characters of Bartolo and Basilio, who were left to interpret their roles as Rossini and his librettist Cesare Sterbini had intended.

The weakest singer was Catherine Trottmann, which is a pity, as this young mezzo shows much potential. Her timbre is pleasant, and she moves and acts pleasingly. Perhaps the stage director’s misconception of her role unsettled her. Her opening aria, “Una voce poco fa”, was amazingly underwhelming. This is Rosina’s signature aria where she defines herself: charming, witty, no-nonsense and shrewd. The notes were there, but there was no interpretation. For this, the stage director and the conductor, Jérémie Rhorer, are more guilty than the promising young mezzo. Moreover, Trottmann’s diction was poor, barely enunciating the consonants, making for non-idiomatic Italian. Fortunately, her second act aria, “Contro un cuor”, was a major improvement, vocally appealing and well interpreted. It was somewhat disorienting to see such a vast difference in interpretation, a possible sign of uneven rehearsal times for the various scenes. This inconsistency recurred throughout the opera and with most singers: tentative interpretation and acting in one scene and total fluidity in the next.

Tenor Michele Angelini was, vocally, an exemplary Almaviva. Despite Pelly’s unpleasant characterization for his role, Angelini managed to convey a panache to match his vocal bravura. His rendition of the final aria, “Cessa di più resistere”, was technically impeccable and he was able to act like the ardent lover rather than the rich idiot. Florian Sempey’s Figaro was vocally impressive and his acting convincing, despite Pelly’s unfortunate louche characterization of the role. Nonetheless, it was hard to like this unsympathetically portrayed Figaro. Surprisingly, the strongest performance was Peter Kálmán’s Bartolo, who managed to convey the old bachelor’s idiosyncrasies. His Italian diction was impeccable, and his comic verve totally natural. Robert Gleadow’s Basilio was almost as good, though his big aria “La calunnia” could have been more vocally impressive. The chorus was well-directed, but their movement on stage could be characterized as contrived, if not idiotic, whether in Act One’s accompaniment to the serenade or in the Act One finale as the regiment. Jérémie Rhorer was a competent conductor with an affinity for Rossini’s music, though his tempi were sometimes too slow and the quintessential sparkle was often absent in the music. Overall, this Barber was a missed opportunity, as the singers were all excellent or have strong potential. In the land of Beaumarchais, the playwright after whom the opera’s libretto was written, one would have hoped for more inspired stage directing. Rossini’s opera Il barbiere di Siviglia is dubbed L’inutile precauzione, referring to Don Bartolo’s useless precautions. Pelly’s production is deserving of another sobriquet, L’inutile produzione.

Ossama el Naggar



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