Teatro Di San Carlo 2021-22 Review: Il Barbiere di Siviglia
Xabier Anduaga & Jessica Pratt Lead Rossini’s Masterwork in Brilliant RevivalBy Francisco Salazar
Opera is going through a transition with companies trying to modernize works in order to bring younger audiences and bring the art form into the modern world. In some cases, it works and in other cases, it becomes a mere distraction that puts a concept up front and places the work and its music in the background.
For the Teatro San Carlo’s revival of “Il Barbiere di Siviglia,” the company chose to revive a 1998 production by Filippo Crivelli which uses traditional mise-en-scène. The result was an evening of pure excitement and virtuosic singing.
Crivelli’s production uses colorful Trompe-l’œil scenery to create the illusion of a three-dimensional city. It’s quite visually intricate and always pleasant to the eye.
There are four sets in the production. The first is outside of Rosina’s villa, where you see a balcony and various other houses around. The second is a doorway which is seen during the storm in Act two, during the overture, and during Figaro and Almaviava’s duet. The third set is inside Rosina’s corridors which is decorated with a dresser, a desk, and some chairs.
Finally, the second act takes place inside a room with an arched entrance. There is not much change through the two and half hour opera but that allows audiences to focus on the ensemble and its performances.
Before mentioning individual soloists, I think it is important to mention, the chemistry in the Act one finale and the opening of Act two. All six soloists were simply having fun with the piece and were in sync with one another, each playing off each other’s physical moments. Xabier Anduaga relished his drunken soldier in Act one while Jessica Pratt ran around the stage as she fooled Carlo Lepore’s Don Basilio. Then there was Anduaga and Lepore’s dance. And of course, Davide Luciano was just having fun during the sextet “Fredda ed immobile come una statua” where he pranced around the stage looking at Don Bartolo and Rosina’s reactions to the confusion of the finale of Act one.
In Act two, as Figaro orchestrated a meeting between Rosina and the Count, all the performers led the raucous chaos with dynamism. Figaro shaved his Bartolo while the count and Rosina pretended to be rehearsing a piece. When Basilio entered the stage, the performers went around him to try to kick him out in order to plan their night’s meeting. There was also a comic touch in which Rosinia, Figaro, and the Count pushed Bartolo around in a seat. The moment was entirely well orchestrated that the audience laughed with every performer also wholely involved in the gaff and the exaggerated moment.
But more than the acting, one had to commend how well the performers shined vocally together. Never was there one singer outshining the other. Never was there a singer attempting to hold out a high note for the sake of showing off. It was all about the action and telling the story through the music and every single duet, trio, or ensemble sounded unified and perfectly balanced. This is what one would want of a “Barbiere.”
Now on to the individual soloists.
In the role of the Count, Xabier Anduaga brought his interpretation to the San Carlo for the very first time. The Spanish tenor demonstrated his comic chops throughout the evening especially when he dressed as a soldier at the end of Act one, moving around like a drunk, dancing with his stage partners, and then showing his assertive and cocky Count. In Act two he was also quite comic as he gave his Don Alonso a peaceful character before turning back into the ardent Count. One could see Anduaga was letting lose every moment he could and having fun with it.
Vocally, one can hear Anduaga will likely move away from the roulades of Rossini’s music and more into the legato phrases of Bellini and Donizetti. That was clear in the first aria of “‘Ecco, ridente in cielo” which saw the tenor savor the legato lines of the opening aria giving gorgeous pianos and crescendoing into fortes and demonstrating his gorgeous tone. In the cavatina portion “Tacete gia veggo,” one could hear some struggle in the fioritura as some of the runs sounded a little labored and imprecise. In the duet with Figaro, he seemed to warm up and his fast staccato notes were filled with charm. The “Ah che d’amore” was also filled with a charismatic tone and benefited from a slower tempo for the runs which were much more clear and fluid.
Anduaga also relished his Serenade “Se il mio nome saper” as he took the tempo more upbeat adding Spanish flair and virtuosity to the guitar that sounded like flamenco music. Anduaga caressed the lines as they flowed with such ease and brought the best of his smooth lyrical voice. There were beautiful mezzavoce singing and playfulness as he constantly rubatoed from one line to another. The roulades were also shaped with ease as they melted into his voice.
The final aria, “Cessa di piu resistere” is one of the most challenging arias for tenor in Rossini’s opera as the tenor is tasked with a recitative, an aria, and a cavatina that play with the variation. It also traverses the tenor’s range and asks for a lot of fluoride lines. In this aria Anduaga displayed great virtuosity as he began the aria with an imposing tone that saw him sing through the florid line with ease. Then in the second part “E tu, infelice vittima” his tone gained a gentleness that was light and flexible and that also mixed numerous dynamics to express the love the count feels for Rosina. The following “Ah il piu lieto” began with a joyful tone that saw the tenor surge into his gleaming high range. The variations were also crisp if sometimes a bit rushed. But Maestro Riccardo Frizza held it together and Anduaga was able to end with a shimmering high note on the text “felicita.”
As Rosina Jessica Pratt brought charm, intelligence and swiftness to her character. This was a Rosina, who was ahead of every character. During the duet with Figaro, she laughed as Luciano’s Figaro attempted to instruct her on how to write a letter to her secret lover and during Don Bartolo’s aria, she constantly found ways to distract him from the truth and at one point ran off the stage as Don Bartolo continued distracted in his aria. During her Act two lesson scene, she displayed physicality by running around the stage and moving a music stand from the front of the stage to the back and then towards Bartolo’s hand. In every way, Pratt was enjoying every moment of the evening and outwitting all the men that surrounded her.
Vocally, Pratt took some time to warm up. Her “Una voce poco fa” was sung with precise coloratura though sometimes her high notes and the roulades felt restrained, almost as if she was holding back. However, in the duet “Dunque io son,” her voice bloomed with the legato lines filled with smooth phrasing and the coloratura and higher register finally glowing. But it was in Act two, where Pratt got a chance to show where her virtuosity in all its glory.
For this production, Pratt had announced prior to opening that she was basing her interpretation on a critical edition by Alberto Zedda and decided to change the aria “Contro un cor” for “Deh! Torna, mio bene” by Heinrich Proch. During Rossini’s time and even into the early 20th century, it was a custom to change the aria for a showpiece, and even in the score, Rossini gives the singer an option to either sing the original aria or something else.
Pratt had previously used the Proch variations at the Arena di Verona to great acclaim. It was no different at the Teatro San Carlo where she started the aria with a lush legato line that was filled with expressiveness and varying dynamics. But after the theme, Pratt jumped into the coloratura passages first with roulades that flowed with such exactitude before going into staccato lines where Pratt interpolated many high notes. The aria also gave Pratt a chance to show off her trills as well as a lot of held high notes. At the end of the aria, she sang a cadenza with flute that was reminiscent of the one from “Lucia si Lammermoor.” Both the flute and Pratt were in sync, imitating each other and demonstrating even more coloratura virtuosity as well as gorgeous mezzo-piano singing. And at the end of the aria Pratt held out her final note all while twirling on stage. Perhaps what was even more impressive was how Pratt not only sang the aria, but was so keen on running around the stage from Bartolo all while performing difficult passages. When she finished the aria, the soprano garnered the biggest ovation of the evening.
In the title role of Davide Luciano sang with swagger and excitement throughout the evening even if sometimes his dynamics weren’t very varied and mostly stayed in a forte sound. His “Largo al factotum” was sung with a booming timbre that sometimes veered into a grainy sound. However, Luciano had impeccable diction and his patter work was remarkable as he never ran out of breath and continuously sped up some of the tempi. His legato phrases and coloratura work in the subsequent duets “Dunque io son” and his duet with the Count were also filled with spunk and were particularly precise. His most dynamic moment came as he interacted with his colleagues, especially in the Act one finale and the final trio “Zitti zitti” which saw Luciano making fun of Pratt and Anduaga as he imitated their phrases in an exaggerated way.
As Don Basilio, Riccardo Fassi sang the “La calunnia è un venticello” with great prowess. Fassi began with a gorgeous piano that quickly rose to a forte where he showed imposing highs and a resonate low. He also demonstrated a facility with patter that was so clear that one felt every word being said. Fassi’s corporal language was also over the top as he continuously used his hand to express an idea that one almost felt as if Fassi was demonstrating the ridiculousness of Don Basilio and his idea for revenge. And one could see Fassi even playing into the slapstick at the end of the opera as he came into the scene following the “Zitti” trio with seriousness and resolve only to change and be persuaded with such ease.
Speaking of patter, Carlo Lepore was a standout in his aria “A un dottor della mia sorte.” The bass demonstrated impeccable legato phrases in his aria as well as staccato lines that brought out the giggles in the audience. And when he started the second part of the aria, which requires fast patter, Lepore sang it with such accuracy and with flawless diction that you could almost hear every word within the quickness of the aria. At one point, he jokingly gasped as if he were out breath. But after the joke, he continued through the patter with the same articulation. But this wasn’t the only moment for Lepore’s Don Bartolo as the bass brought the comic timing during the opening scene of Act two as he began to sing the lines “Gioa e pace” with a falsetto line that brought out of desperation in the repetitive lines sung by Anduaga. He brought back the falsetto in the lesson scene when he began to sing “Cantava Cafariello.” Lepore sang an entire passage attempting to sound like a soprano with a smooth legato line. The moment brought out the biggest laughs of the evening. Perhaps what made this Bartolo so successful was how it was Lepore brought out the exaggerated gestures of the character through his facial expressions and by his physicality whether it was fainting at the end of Act one, falling asleep through Rosina’s aria in the lesson scene or simply being stuck to a cart as Rosina, Figaro, and the Count moved him around without his control. Lepore knew he had no control in any of the scene but showed his Bartolo as one who tries but is just a joke for all involved. That is what made his appearance all the more comic.
Daniela Cappiello portrayed Berta with a fresh voice and jovial spirit. Her aria “Il vecchiotto cerca moglie” was sung with spark and glowing coloratura. She even sang a virtuosic cadenza that showcased a gleaming high range.
Armando de Ceccon portrayed the silent role of Ambrogio with ease. This was an Ambrogio who attempted to scheme with Don Bartolo but was constantly caught by the others.
In the pit, Riccardo Frizza once again demonstrated why he is the leading Bel Canto conductor of his generation. Frizza is able to pull out the contrasts in Rossini’s music as he pulls off the trademark crescendoes with ease. He particularly showed it during the overture, the Calumnia aria, and the finale of Act one. One could sense there was a build towards a climax and the music was constantly growing. His tempi were also spectacular as he constantly moved the music forward and created a sense of urgency in all the ensembles while also giving it levity. Frizza’s expertise with the repertoire was also shown in Act one, when the sextet finale seemed to get off but the conductor held it together and quickly got it back on track.
There were two moments in the musical playing that Frizza gave a Spanish flare. The first came with Anduaga’s serenata where he played it in a upbeat Spanish rhythm and the second came at the end in “Di si Felice inncesto” where he added the castanets. These were refreshing and fun ideas that gave the music a fresh sound. It was also great to hear some of the repeats in the “Zitti Zitti” trio and to hear the entire coda section of the Act one finale.
Overall, this was a memorable evening demonstrating that opera can still be engaging and modern in a traditional setting.