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that Rossini decided to tackle the subject, believing that he could do much more with the work than the old-fashioned, outdated, conservative style of the original version.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”.

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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.

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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.