A Barber of debuts and experimentation
08/11/2014 - & August 14*, 17, 20, 2014
Gioachino Rossini: Il barbiere di Siviglia
Chiara Amarù (Rosina), Felicia Bongiovanni (Berta), Paolo Bordogna (Bartolo), Alex Esposito (Basilio), Juan Francisco Gatell (Il Conte d’Almaviva), Florian Sempey (Figaro), Andrea Vicenzo (Fiorello & Officiale), Alberto Pancrazi (Ambroglio)
Chorus of San Carlo di Pesaro, Salvatore Francavilla (Chorus Master), Carmen Santoro (Piano forte continuo), Eugenio Della Chiara (Guitar), Orchestra of the Teatro Comunale di Bologna, Giacomo Sagripanti (Conductor)
Accademia di Belle Arti di Urbino (Direction, Projectìons, Settings, Videos, & Costumes)
(Courtesy of Rossini Opera Festival)
Research continues even on beloved and established elements of the repertoire. Rossini Opera Festival (R.O.F.) present a new edition of Il barbiere di Siviglia complimented by an experimental “semi-staged” production by the Accademia di Belle Arti di Urbino. “Semi-staged” is something of a misnomer as this production makes extensive use of the traditional stage, extending that into the auditorium: the floor, the boxes, the walls and the exits. Super-nummary cast were everywhere; moving sets, providing properties, assisting movements of the principal cast, adding decoration to the set and simply observing the action. Anyone who believed they would see a concert-style performance could not have been further from the actuality.
This Barber is one of debuts at R.O.F.. The Coro San Carlo di Pesaro appeared for the first time in a festival production and gave a creditable performance although reduced to a static presence for short periods only. Felicia Bongiovanni as Berta also makes her R.O.F. debut. Her exasperated house-keeper frustrated by the foolish behaviour of the patron but not past flirting with him when he became "available" after Rosina’s marriage. She has a strong voice which easily carried her part in ensembles and earned hearty applause for her solo.
French baritone Florian Sempey as Figaro was another debutant but one could have been forgiven for guessing that he was a beloved "old-hand" at this role for this festival. From the opening bars of his cavatina “Ah, ah! Che bella vita” it was clear that this was a Figaro who not only loves life, he adores it! He is a schemer, a rogue, a best friend, a confidante, and a barber of highest quality! A rich, strong and macho baritone is shaded with gentler tones but all the time maintains superbly precise diction and impeccable tempi. His every appearance, brought the house down with riotous laughter and thunderous applause. It would be a huge understatement to say that R.O.F. have a “hit” on their hands with this man.
Conductor Giacomo Sagripanti also makes his R.O.F. debut with this production. Despite his youth, he brings extensive experience in the bel canto repertoire. Directing entirely from memory, his knowledge of the subtleties and variations within this score are encyclopaedic. He urged restraint upon the orchestra to have them lightly float through many passages treated more heavily by others. He established shades and colours of immense variety and complexity which added new meaning to music we thought we knew well. His reading of the score is fast and at times furious. His control of the densely written ensemble passages masterful and the overall effect of the performance was fresh, lively and bright.
Chiara Amarù as Rosina is an established presence at the festival and one of the new young "masters" of the style. Her voice is lustrous and dark and her stage presence offered variety and wit which captivated the audience. The surety of her rapid-fire diction and the confidence with which she approached her two major solos spoke of a Rosina who will be much-appreciated in many opera houses. She is an equally accomplished ensemble performer and shone brilliantly in the great finale to Act 1.
As Basilio, Alex Esposito once again showed why he is such a firm favourite at this festival. He is not only witty and razor-sharp as an actor but a superbly gifted musician as well. In this role, one could not differentiate between “a singer who acts and an actor who sings”. He brought continuing gales of laughter from his pontifical intimidation of Bartolo to his liberally dispensed blessings to the audience. This was a rich and absolutely fresh rendition of the character.
With much use made of projections onto screens, curtains, the walls of the boxes and the ceiling, this production made extensive use of electronics. On-stage, a model of the theatre boxes and a lone man in a chair as an "audience" suggested that we all need to look beyond the traditional interpretation of theatrical presentations. Some elements were hysterically funny: the arrival of Basilio in a litter carried by hard-hat workers; some bizarre: the serving of a brain to Bartolo as a meal in the Act 1 finale; and some, completely unfathomable: the presence of a man with a drawn pistol throughout the Act 2 finale. But there can be no denying that this is a Barber unlike any other and a fabulously rich night of music.