Kemoklidze, Ketevan


BarbiereGioachino Rossini - Il Barbiere di Siviglia

Teatro Regio di Parma, 2011 | Andrea Battistoni, Stefano Vizioli, Ketevan Kemoklidze, Luca Salsi, Dmitry Korchak, Giovanni Furlanetto, Bruno Praticò, Gabriele Bolletta, Noris Borgogelli, Natalia Roman | Arthaus Musik

You might detect the influence of Mozart in some of Rossini’s earlier works. It’s there in an opera seria like Semiramide, but it’s perhaps most evident in the buffo style of Il Barbiere di Siviglia, ‘The Barber of Seville’. Most obviously, it shares several of the same characters who appear in The Marriage of Figaro, both works originally written by Beaumarchais, but the similarity is evident in the use of recitative, the ensemble finales, the type of humour in the farcical situations (the librettist, Sterbini, like Da Ponte for Mozart, cutting back on some of the more pointed barbs of Beaumarchais’s revolutionary satire), but principally, it’s the manner in which Rossini approaches the material with a similar sense of dazzling inventiveness and virtuoso touches that would come to define bel canto.

It was Paisiello however, more than Mozart or Beaumarchais, who would have been foremost in the mind of the composer, since Paisiello’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia had already proven to be a success and was still hugely popular at the time that Rossini decided to tackle the subject, believing that he could do much more with the work than the old-fashioned, outdated, conservative style of the original version. Sterbini evidently thought so too and rather than go back to the original Beaumarchais source, set about reworking Paisiello’s opera, delivering it piecemeal for Rossini to complete in his famously prolific fashion. When asked if Rossini had indeed written the whole of The Barber of Seville in 13 days, Donizetti is reported to have replied, “It is very possible, he is so lazy”.

Barbiere

There reason I think it’s worth mentioning some of the background around the composition of the opera (which caused some fuss on its premiere in Rome in 1816, partly due to favouritism for Paisiello’s work and partly due to some attempts by supporters of Paisiello to actually sabotage its reception), is that this spirit of inventiveness, irreverence and simply just dashing it off in an off-handedly brilliant fashion is crucial to the tone of the work. It’s the same spirit that fires the youthful enthusiasm of Figaro, of Rosina and even of Almaviva and sets them in opposition to the old guard of Doctor Bartolo and Don Basilio. Even if you are unaware of its background, you should really get a sense of this from any production of the work itself, which is why ultimately it’s a little disappointing that this production recorded at the Teatro Regio di Parma in 2011 – otherwise competently produced and very well performed –couldn’t be a bit more lively.

On the positive side, while the stage setting itself initially isn’t much to look at, it’s actually quite inventive, with some appropriately imaginative touches to allow the work to flow through each of the two acts. So while in Act I, Doctor Bartolo’s house looks like a cardboard cut-out, with there being little sense of realism in the location of it actually being in street, much less a street in Seville, there is at least a balcony for Rosina, and some attempt at period costume, and really that’s all that is necessary for the opening scene. The cleverness of the set is revealed in the subsequent scenes when it opens up to reveal the interior of the house – again, quite simply – but through a few smart devices including a mountain of books, and through the colouration and lighting, it captures that sense of improvised brilliance, as well as being functional for the vital flow of the work and its humorous situations.

Barbiere

While the set is well-equipped to handle the flow and spirit of the work, the stage direction of the performers and the situations is however rather lacking in fire, personality and, sadly, in any real sense of humour. It all feels rather flat. The orchestra of Parma are fine under the young 23 year old conductor Andrea Battistoni, giving a vigorous account of the overture (the overture to this work borrowed from another opera, Aureliano, when the original was lost soon after its first production), and the performance of the score throughout is excellent, but after a while it also seems to just drag along with the lifeless stage direction. It’s no fault either of the singers, who are mostly wonderful. Ketevan Kemoklidze’s Rosina in particular is superb, with a sparkling vitality in voice and character, but Luca Salsi’s Figaro and Bruno Praticò’s Bartolo also rise to the challenging and invigorating cavatinas and cabalettas of the work. Dmitry Korchak, while he has a pleasant musical tone of voice (as noted in my review of Rossini’s La Gazza Ladra) unfortunately doesn’t have sufficient force, range or personality to carry off Count Almaviva.

All in all however, this is a reasonably good production of Il Barbiere di Siviglia. It looks good, it’s well-sung and well-performed, only lacking a spark of imagination in the direction, pacing and humour that really ought to be there to set this dazzling and entertaining work off. Image quality on the Blu-ray release from Arthaus is excellent, the image beautifully clear even in darkened areas of the stage, and there are strong HD sound mixes in PCM Stereo and DTS HD-Master Audio 5.1. Other than Trailers for other releases, there are no extra features on the disc. The Blu-ray is BD50, 16:9, 1080i full HD. Subtitles are in Italian, English, German, French, Spanish, Chinese and Korean.

ChamounixGaetano Donizetti - Linda di Chamounix

Gran Teatre del Liceu, Barcelona 2012 | Marco Armiliato, Emilio Sagi, Diana Damrau, Juan Diego Flórez, Bruno de Simone, Simón Orfila, Pietro Spagnoli, Silvia Tro Santafé, Jordi Casanova, María José Suárez, Mariola Cantarero, Ismael Jordi, Paolo Bordogna, Mirco Palazzi, Ketevan Kemoklidze, Fabio Capitanucci | 7 and 8 January 2012

As an example of the semiseria opera tradition, where tragedy ensues but everything nonetheless works through to a happy end, the plot of Donizetti’s Linda di Chamounix shares a familiar plot line that is more than a little overwrought and even in parts ridiculous. Like Halévy’s semiseria Clari, recently rediscovered and revived (not entirely convincingly) by Cecilia Bartoli, it involves a young woman from the country, an Alpine virgin, who runs away to Paris on the promise of marriage to a rich man and in the process not only risks destroying the good name of her family but also losing her virtue and losing her mind when her fiancée seems to be unable to or is prevented from making an honest woman out of her.

In Haléy’s opera - written for the soprano Maria Malibran - this is an occasion then for long-winded opera-seria like virtuoso bel canto singing with extravagant coloratura to suggest the depths of despair, torment and eventual breakdown its heroine endures, as well as emphasising the importance of virtue in a manner that seems terribly old-fashioned by today’s standards and scarcely worthy of revival. Also rarely performed nowadays, Donizetti’s Linda di Chamounix is similarly encumbered by stern moralising, but the challenges of producing it lie more in the difficulty of finding bel canto singers capable of meeting its comparatively modest, but no less demanding singing roles. This new production from Emilio Sagi for the Gran Teatre del Liceu in Barcelona with Diana Damrau and Juan Diego Flórez in the main roles of Linda and Carlo, demonstrated the importance of the casting for this opera, one that is vital for it to work even half way convincingly.

Making this overall plot work is quite a challenge, but set-up in Act 1 at least is conventional enough. Linda is a pure and beautiful young country girl, the daughter of tenant farmers in the Alpine Savoy region of France in 1760. She is being pursued by the landowner, the Marquis de Boisfleury, a notorious libertine and seducer of young girls, who believes he has some claim to her, having extended her family’s lease on their factory. Warned of the intentions of Boisfleury by the Prefect, her father sends her away to Paris, entrusting her to her childhood friend Pierotto, but it means that Linda has to leave behind her true love, Carlo. Carlo, who has been keeping his identity secret, is the nephew of the Marquis de Boisfleury, promises “before God and man” that he will make Linda his wife, but his mother has other ideas and a more suitable match for the young viscount than a poor country girl.

Chamounix

Many of the difficulties with swallowing the dramatic developments occur in Act 2, where Linda, having been reduced to singing in the streets after Pierotto had fallen ill, has now been rescued by Carlo and installed in a luxurious Parisian apartment. By amazing coincidence, over the course it seems of an hour, she is joyously reunited with Pierotto; is then visited by the Marquis who suspects she is living in such surroundings on the expense of a rich admirer and believes it gives him freedom to make another play for her; is visited by Carlo who is concerned about the upcoming marriage that has been arranged for him; is then petitioned by her father who, when he discovers that the viscount’s mistress is none other than his daughter Linda, furiously repudiates her. To top it all, Pierotto returns to tell Linda that he has seen the preparations for Carlo’s marriage to another woman. Having endued all this, Linda, inevitably, and in the great opera tradition, goes mad.

The plot might sound outlandish and governed by extraordinarily unlikely coincidences, but Act 2 nonetheless manages to present the different facets of Linda’s situation with economical precision. Really, you couldn’t make the complications of Linda’s predicament any clearer. What helps matters and makes the contrivances rather more palatable, is of course the wonderful musical arrangements and the singing. Musically, Linda di Chamounix, coming several years after Lucia di Lammermoor and preceding the masterful Don Pasquale, is a rather more sophisticated affair than earlier Donizetti works. Characters are defined and identified by leitmotifs and the composer’s use of duets allows the dramatic flow to be maintained without the excesses of emotion expression in long arias. Even Linda’s ‘mad scene’ is a rather more restrained affair than the one in Lucia di Lammermoor, and so well orchestrated are the events that lead up to it, and so precise in delivery and expression is the scene, that it’s actually even more moving and tragic without all the excess.

While there may be few and shorter showcase arias than is customary, those that we have are demanding nonetheless and, when delivered by a singer of exceptional quality, certainly have their dramatic and emotional impact and linger in the mind, as much through the fine melodies of the mature Donizetti style as through the sentiments expressed in them and what they reveal about the characters. Diana Damrau’s mad scene consequently received long and enthusiastic applause at the Liceu, as did Juan Diego Flórez’s confidently delivered ‘Se tanto in ira agli uomini‘ in Act 2. Their expression of the characters in this difficult Act 2 was such that Act 3’s happy resolution of Linda being cured from the madness that has afflicted her by the refrain of Carlo’s promise, is capable of being musically satisfying as well as dramatically convincing. In the other roles, Simón Orfila had powerful presence and authority as the religious and moral guide, the Prefect, while Pietro Spagnoli was fine as Linda’s father Antonio.

Chamounix

The difference that this makes was evident from a viewing of another performance of the same production the previous evening with an alternate cast. Surprisingly however, the difference wasn’t exclusively down to the vocal characteristics alone. Both Mariola Cantarero and Ismael Jordi sang well - Jordi in particular fully deserving of the applause received for a fine performance that was a worthy alternative to Flórez, if Cantarero didn’t have quite the beauty of tone or range of Damrau, particularly when it came to holding that high note at the end of the mad scene. There was however a marked difference embodied in their characters, Damrau and Flórez a much more convincing couple who were able to breathe life into the characters that was lacking in the performance of the alternate cast. Mirco Palazzi was a good Prefect here, if not quite as powerful as Simón Orfilia, but I preferred Ketevan Kemoklidze’s Pierotto of the alternate cast over Silvia Tro Santafé, who has a pretty voice but irritatingly sang every note with vibrato. Fabio Capitanucci also made a stronger impression as Antonio, particularly in his duets with Linda and with the Prefect. Paolo Bordogna played the role of the Marquis de Boisfleury with a little more of a comic touch that seems right for the character, but Bruno de Simone’s Boisfleury fitted in better with the more sensitive touch of the Damrau/Florez pairing.

Emilio Sagi’s staging was perfectly in service of the opera without being overly conceptual or too literal. The nature of the Alpine Savoy region was evoked in clean, pure, classical lines, the inhabitants all dressed in white and far more fashionably and expensively than one would expect tenant farmers of a provincial region - but the outer garments were perhaps more of a representation of the inner nature of the characters. The same sense of classical design of Act 2 likewise reflected Linda’s inner purity, even when to outside eyes she appears to be an immoral kept woman in an expensive Parisian apartment. Marco Armiliato directed the orchestra of the Liceu delicately through Donizetti’s score, like the singers and in line with the restrained musical arrangements, maintaining a fine balance that held back any heavy-handed over-emphasis that might tip the work over into sentimental melodrama.