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Animated and amusing

Royal Opera Stockholm
06/06/2009 -  & 8, 10, 12* June, 22, 25, 28 August, 1 September, 8, 14, 20, 30 October, 26 November, 2 December 2009, 19, 22, 25, 27 January, 3, 6 February 2010
Gioacchino Rossini: Il Barbiere di Siviglia
Ola Eliasson (Figaro), Susann Vegh (Rosina), Klas Hedlund (Count Almaviva), John Erik Eleby (Doctor Bartolo), Umberto Chiummo (Don Basilio), Agneta Lundgren (Berta), Magnus Linden (Fiorello, An Officer)
Royal Opera Chorus, Christina Hörnell, Folke Alin (Chorusmasters), Royal Opera Orchestra, Graeme Jenkins*/Pier Giorgio Morandi (Conductor)
Knut Hendriksen (Director), Per A. Jonsson (Set and Costume Designer), Ronny Andersson (Lighting Designer)

K. Hedlund (© Carl Thorborg)

The Royal Swedish Opera closes its 2008/09 season - then opens its 2009/10 season - with this newly-rehearsed revival of the Rossini staple. (The production was first performed in 1998.) Director Knut Hendriksen has conjured up a lively staging, managing to inject original comic business that is by and large very successful.

The lively action takes place within the witty sets of Per A. Jonsson. The opening scene, with players silhouetted against a midnight-blue backdrop, is handsome indeed, and the distinguished look to the production continues with the exterior and interior views of Doctor Bartolo's decaying house.

The Royal Swedish Opera operates with a resident ensemble whose members perform several roles each season. In Barbiere only one cast member is not from the core ensemble: Umberto Chiummo, who plays Don Basilio. Like most Basilios I have seen, he is very tall - and, incidentally, also has the voice for the role. Perhaps one Italian was cast to demonstrate how well - or not - the Nordic singers handle the language. They all sounded fine to me, with the two baritones displaying notably incisive enunciation.

Ola Eliasson is a lively, attention-grabbing (in the best way) Figaro. His kinetic presence is matched by the performance of John Erik Eleby's Bartolo as a man ready to explode at any moment. The doctor has a mad scientist aspect and there are hints of gruesome anatomical experiments being conducted.

Klas Hedlund (Almaviva) has a distinctive way of floating his high-lying phrases, rendering his two serenades very beguiling. Susann Vegh is a rather standard-issue Rosina but she fits well with the sharp comedic approach of the production.

Graeme Jenkins ably conducts from a hammerclavier. The men of the Royal Opera Chorus have a warm, virile sound.

Stockholm's Royal Opera House dates from 1898 and seats just 1090. The sound is very alive (as one would expect), if a bit orchestra-heavy on the parkett level. There is talk of a new opera house for the city. Other Baltic capitals have in recent years completed new opera houses, each of them an urban set-piece: Helsinki in 1993, Copenhagen in 2005 and Oslo in 2008. St. Petersburg is building a new theatre to supplement the Mariinsky. A theatre with multiple backstage areas and a pit that can hold 110 players seems to be the new standard. The Rossini orchestra of 42 or so practically filled the pit of the current house - one wonders how they handle Wagner and Strauss. The current wonderful theatre would have to continue to be used, of course, and is well worth attending, especially for a production as sheerly entertaining as this Barbiere.

Michael Johnson



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