Opéra National de Paris Review 2019-20: Il Barbiere di Siviglia
Lisette Oropesa Is A Shining Success in Damiano Michieletto’s Stunning ProductionBy Mauricio Villa
This review is for the third performance of this run on Feb. 1st, 2020.
Moments prior to the first performance of “Il Barbiere di Siviglia” at the Paris Opera, the audience members were greeted by a recording clarifying the situation. Strikes in Paris had kept the theater closed for over a month, so it was no surprise that the attempts to appease the audience via recording were met with mixed responses including booing and cheering.
But the tense atmosphere shifted the moment the maestro entered the pit to conduct the performance. What we wound up experiencing was a mixed bag vocally, but rather imposing dramatically.
A Major Off Night
One of the major attractions of this performance was the Paris debut of tenor Xavier Anduaga as Coutn Almvaviva. The 24-year-old tenor gained international attention by winning last year’s Operalia Competition and he is expected to be one of the great tenors of his generation. And why wouldn’t he be. He undeniably has the vocal tools to pull off a notable career: a dark velvet timbre and astounding projection.
Unfortunately, it was not his night. I really believe he was feeling sick, though it was not announced prior the performance.
Things actually got off to a decent if not convincing start for him. His opening aria “Ecco ridente in cielo” was sung with delicacy, good taste, and amazing long fiato lines, but the coloratura in the Allegro was not clean and surprisingly, he did not go to a high C at the end as most tenors do. I had doubts about whether that was his choice or the conductor’s but seeing how he ended the performance I guess he did not want to take risks.
For a Rossini role, Almaviva is quite central, always hovering around the passagio zone and with lots of scales of coloraturas up to B natural. That is quite affordable considering other Rossini tenor roles require dozens of high Cs and Ds; in essence, it is a role that a fine tenor should manage well enough.
Then he started to grow into the performance and sang his second short aria “Se il mio nome” with exquisite pianissimo and unique variations of his own. The duet with Figaro gave audiences an example of his vocal potency with the tenor managing to overpower his lower-voiced colleague.
His entrance as a drunk soldier was funny and dynamic and he managed to navigate the high tessitura unite well with solid ascensions to high B naturals. And he kept his voice quite present during the final concertante.
But the problems came in the second act, starting with his entrance dressed as a pupil of Don Basilio. Here I noticed that his voice had lost volume and projection; then during his line “giubilera, giubilera” in Rosina’s second aria, he lowered the line down one octave, avoiding the sustained high B flat written in the score. That was a strange choice, I thought. But as the performance continued, he began to sing mezza voce whenever he was going to a G above the stave or higher, opting most of the time to sing an octave lower. Moreover, under these circumstances, the coloratura was weaker and unstable. I was really fearing how he might manage the final aria “Cessa di piú ressistere,” but the aria was just cut, and he finished the nigh with almost no voice at all. I must say that he did an amazing job saving his performance, and his vocal problems did not interfere with his acting, which was brilliant, funny and energetic.
The Star of the Show
American lirico-leggera soprano Lisette Oropesa took on the role of Rosina. She is well-loved by the Parisian audience, as she has stepped into the role of Marguerite di Valois in “les Hugenots” on very short notice last season and then stepped in as well into “L’Elisir d’amore,” combining rehearsals for the Donizetti work while performing the Meyerbeer opera at the Bastille.
All the admiration she received on this particular night was well-deserved. Her timbre is dark, round, and completely even throughout her register. She tops off this combination with amazing, ringing high notes.
She surprisingly sang the famed aria “Una voce poco Fa” in the mezzo-soprano key ( the aria is published in two different keys, with the soprano version one semi-tone higher) delivering sonorous low B naturals and C sharps. Her coloratura technique is depurated and immaculate, as well as her staccato notes and all the high interpolated high notes; it must be said that she was very cautious with variations, maintaining most of the original written lines.
Her duet with Figaro was lively and cunning, again proving her amazing control of the middle voice. Her voice was quite present during the final concertante; choosing this time to sing Berta’s lines which are written for a soprano with two chromatic ascensions to high C; here her voice shined clearly over the rest of the cast, chorus, and orchestra.
She took on her second act aria “Contra un cor” in the soprano key which is one and a half semi tones higher than the mezzo key. Her voice was constantly tasked with high Cs, which she pulled off beauifully. The rest of the aria was a masterful display of vocal fireworks well-rewarded by the audience.
She kept her polished coloratura technique and sweet timbre for the trio with Figaro and Almaviva, and for the final scene, always adding subtle variation in order to preserve the integrity of the original melody.
Oropesa was the true success of the evening, and she received a well-deserved long ovation at the curtain call.
Ilya Kutyukhin was a vocal disappointment in the title role of Figaro. His voice was rather weak from a projection standpoint; it was already mentioned how he was overpowered by Anduaga in their duet.
To make matters more disappointing, he struggled with high notes. The role of Figaro has a lot. “Largo al Factotum” has a high G on his first line; in Kutyukhin’s voice, this first G sounded hoarse, unstable and short. He didn’t fare any better with the remaining three from the aria. He seemed to have no problems in maintaining the tessitura of the aria, which is hard enough for a baritone, but his last high G, which is supposed to be the climax, didn’t quite work at all. The audience showed its disapproval strongly after the aria.
He was a very good actor, playing a cunning Figaro who was energetic and funny, but vocally his voice kept getting lost during ensembles. His coloratura was also unclean and imprecise.
On the Other Hand
On the other hand, Carlo Lepore, as Bartolo, was alongside Oropesa, the greatest success of the night. The Italian bass has a big voice and he used it amply, rather than overusing the parlatto technique a lot of comic basses use in this part.
He was also very funny playing the role, though Michieletto went deeper into the character, showing a sad and serious side of him that made it more believable. He interpreted his single aria “A un doctor della mia sorte” using a wide-ranging color palette to shape every phrase. His high E flats were rotund and thunderous, but then he managed to lighten his voice, and managed a perfect pronunciation of every single word throughout “signorina, un’altra volta” which is always sung impossibly fast.
He was especially funny on the interpretation of the short arietta “Quando mi sei vicina,” singing the first line in an exaggerated falsetto, almost imitating the castrati.
Krzysztof Baçzyk took on the role of Don Basilio. He has a lyrical bass voice, rich in harmonics and with a sweet dark timbre; but once again his voice lacked projection and sounded distant and muffle. His aria “La calummnia” was attentively interpreted, but his voice lost power when ascending to the high E naturals which are supposed to be the climax of the lines where there are written. As with his colleagues, he was hilarious without resorting to over-exaggerated clownish acting.
Carlo Montanaro conducted the orchestra of the París Opera, which surprisingly sounded poor during the famous overture. I guess they have reduced the orchestra for this work, but the Bastille theatre is enormous and the orchestra sound did not managed to fill the space. He gave a frenzied reading of the score being attentive to the “Rossini crescendoes” by maintaining a stable rhythm, while gradually increasing the intensity of the music; there is a tendency in conductors to increase the sound while increasing the tempo. Instead, Montanaro found a good balance between the instruments during the first act concertante.
The male section of the Paris Opera chorus was faultless during the few scenes they have, sounding particularly strong and vibrant during the first act concertante and the opera’s finale.
Giving It Life
Michieletto’s production is what you could expect of this young stage director: Inventive, modern, set in our time, with detailed acting from the singers and, above all, full of action.
The action is set in the Sevilla of the 80s, in a modest neighborhood, and the impressive sets by Paolo Fatin represent a street where we see the facade of several apartments full of balconies and a bar on the side of the stage. The central part of the façade turns on a revolving platform, showing the sides and interior of Bartolo’s apartment with Berta’s set one floor above. The sets are hyper realistic with plenty of detail on the doorman’s reception, the staircase, and the rooms.
As is Michieletto’s trademark, he integrates the turning of the set into the action of the scene. Some scenes are frenzied with characters running up and down the stairs, going from room to room while others enter and exit their apartments. There is always something happening in the bar with costumers ordering and having a drink or the employees serving or cleaning. .
Michieletto is always in the search of making his productions believable, meaningful, and something the people can relate to. The setting in modern Sevilla is impeccable, with all the signs, advertisements, and graffit in Spanish, while the costumes are faithful reproductions.
It is through strong realism that he manages to reinforce the comic aspects of the Opera while at the same time being critical. The character of Don Bartolo is not the clownish “comedia dell’arte” type usually represented but a bitter, angry, miserly man. Meanwhile, Rosina is a rebellious teenager.
The staging of the storm in Act two was incredibly well-done, with an obvious change in the lighting as there were no rain projections or machines. The storm, instead, was represented through the acting of the performers. We see how, neighbors hurriedly take down their laundry hanging from the balconies and close the blind windows. We see the employers from the bar rush to put the outside tables and chairs inside before closing the doors strongly. The effect is mesmerizing.
Moreover, the finales of both acts feature well-balanced choreography of the whole cast, chorus and extras through the labyrinthine set, ending with Rosina and the Count leaving the stage in a motorcycle with tin cans attached, through ropes, to the back of the vehicle to commemorate the newly wed couple.
This was an amazing, inspired, and realistic production with the absolute triumph of Oropesa and Lepore in the first opera which was performed on the Bastille stage after a 45 days strike which had kept the curtain of the Paris Opera down.