Lithuanian National Opera 2018–19 Review: Il Barbiere di Siviglia
Sesto Quatrini Brings New Life to LNOBT Through Rossini ClassicBy Polina Lyapustina
It seems like Lithuanian National Opera and Ballet Theatre are finally ready for changes.
This September, the Artistic Director position was taken by Sesto Quatrini, the Italian conductor who once said he had general ambitions to change the approach to opera in Italy. Interestingly, in Lithuania he faces far more serious and specific changes that need to be done.
Maestro Quatrini’s plans sound very challenging for local opera community, but before he could make any sweeping reforms, he had dip his toes in some classical repertory.
The Proven Hit
The current production of “Il Barbiere di Siviglia” premiered at the Lithuanian National Opera and Ballet Theatre in 2014. The Rossini classic is staged predominantly in white by Spanish director Emilio Sagi and iconic set designer Llorenç Corbella, giving the work a sense of light and warmth. The audience loved it then and it has now been firmly established with the company. Four years on and we are seeing the same soloists from that opening showcase, but with a new face in the pit — Quatrini himself.
And his effect was immediately apparent.
The orchestra sounded lighter after Quatrini reduced it for the work, but it remained with lovely powerful strings in the right moments. Temp got faster, or to be more precise — it got to normal Italian tempo of Rossini’s masterpiece. And everyone in the audience could feel it immediately. With fewer pauses and a ramped up tempo, the singing parts proved more difficult overall, though the soloists managed it well. The new artistic director also improved their Italian pronunciation.
Ready to Grow
Soprano Joana Gedmintaitė, whom local media call “Lithuanian opera lighthouse,” mastered her Italian better than others. She has been Rosina since 2014, and she performed it twice during this run, including the last and most successful performance.
Her Rosina was very believable. She was pretty and kind, passionate in her likes and dislikes, and also quite intelligent. Her dazzling entrance aria “Una voce poco fa” sounded bright and colorful, though perhaps, at times, it was too exuberant. She proclaimed “Lindoro” at the beginning of the aria with a fairly long C-natural, filled with beautiful stargazing and passionate resolution. We truly believed she was in love. Her coloratura voice was powerful and flexible in top register, but sometimes accented notes sounded more like pressing (with interruption), than musical accents.
Gedmintaitė also shined in all the ensemble parts, standing out for her strong top register. But there was a moment when her voice was shouted down and disappeared under the sonorous strings and voice of Figaro in their duet.
Heroes In Need Of Help
While the male leads mostly achieved comic authenticity, their performances lacked vocal diversity.
Modestas Sedlevičius delivered a sharp and funny Figaro. He’s active, mobile, and has his own barbershop on wheels, which attracted everyone’s attention just in time for his famous “Largo al factotum.” His powerful and deep voice instantly and with no struggle filled the hall with vigorous vitality. But an hour later he continued singing at the same violent in absolutely different conditions. In duets, his resonant and generous timbre tended to overpower his partners, especially Rosina.
Сount Almaviva was enamored, a bit confused, and not inventive. And perhaps, that’s an apt interpretation for the Count. But somehow, the vocal performance of Tomas Pavilionis, despite being the most stable, wasn’t really impressive. I barely can get why Rosina could fall in love with someone, who was passionate only in words.
That said, his disguise as a teacher of music was his most convincing performance. His identity reveal to Rosina was a sweet moment and their almost whispering duets during the shaving scene were romantic and sly, and absolutely delightful for the audience.
As Bartolo, bass Liudas Mikalauskas couldn’t succeed in making the audience dislike the repulsive old doctor; people just loved him too much. Mikalauskas showed his clean, bold, and full voice and perfect dramatic skill in every part. His acting, which included rolling on the floor, fighting with gossip and public censure (which suddenly appeared as wide, white cloth) during “La calunnia,” as well as his hilarious grimace brought most of humor and absurd to the performance. The result was that you couldn’t dislike him for one second and might have even found yourself rooting for him at times.
Another scene-stealer was Berta, played by mezzo-soprano Laima Jonutytė. She brought lovely darker notes to all the ensembles, and incredible charm to the performance. Besides being comical and caring, she was also savvy, lively and energetic — not the stereotypical tired, old woman.
Together with wild and very elastic conducting style of maestro Quatrini, this performance brought another level of passion to the stage of Lithuanian National Opera. And this perceptibly renovated version of “Il Barbiere” also proved to the audience how performances of the established repertoire could be improved. As the evening drew to a close, you could sense that both the creators and the audience felt the immediate change.
Another hopeful moment is how the orchestra, with its strong post-Soviet background, accepted the new style of conducting. After years of work with very technical conductors, sounding and looking overly rigid and square, the orchestra suddenly sounded energized by Quatrini, the musicians bodies suddenly moving as if they were enjoying the experience.
Ultimately, this relationship is bound to face many challenges that it must overcome. But the first signs are encouraging.