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A Barber of quality

Adriatic Arena
08/13/2018 -  & August 16, 19, 22, 2018
Gioacchino Rossini: Il barbiere di Siviglia
Maxim Mironov (Il Conte d’Almaviva), Pietro Spagnoli (Bartolo), Aya Wakizono (Rosina), Davide Luciano (Figaro), Michele Pertusi (Basilio), Elena Zilio (Berta), William Corrò (Fiorello, Ufficiale)
Coro del Teatro Ventidio Basso, Giovanni Farina (Chorus Master), Orchestra Sinfonica Nazionale della RAI, Yves Abel (Conductor)
Pier Luigi Pizzi (Director, Settings and Costumes), Massimo Gasparon (Co-director & Lighting Designer)

M. Mironov, A. Wakizono (© Amati Bacciardi)

It is rare to attend any opera performance where everything goes seamlessly on the night; even rarer to see a production which comes close to perfection. ROF’s new production of Il barbiere di Siviglia realised by legendary director Pier Luigi Pizzi is a shining example of how magical and transporting this art form can be. The opening night ran without apparent glitches and we were privileged to witness a Barber which galloped melodically through the score, made every use of Sterbini’s sublime comedy and still gave us something new and fresh.

The program notes speak of almost two centuries of performance practice and acknowledge that perhaps more than any other opera (as this one has never been out of the repertoire) Il barbiere has accumulated innumerable amendments. Here, at Pesaro, we have Alberto Zedda’s critical edition but more than that, we have this new production which sets out to strip away the opera buffa traditions in favour of a reading which “restores this dazzling masterpiece to its original complexity”.

Pier Luigi Pizzi can claim an almost unequalled operatic curriculum vitae. His experience and certainty of vision derive from decades in the great theatres of the world. From the raising of the curtain, this production leaves no room for doubt: we are in the company of a master who knows exactly how to draw from this universally loved opera, unexpected colours and moods, fresh appreciation of Rossini and Sterbini’s subtleties and an entirely new lease on life for a piece we thought we knew so well. Through his auteurist approach; controlling every aspect of direction, scenery and costume, Pizzi educates us in how to stage such a well known piece; this is a guide for future productions on how best to bring renewed vivacity to a staple of the repertoire.

The settings and artistic design are monochrome architectural minimalism, spiced with dashes of brilliant colour from some of the costumes. Bartolo dons a brilliant purple house coat, Almaviva sports a vivid scarlet cloak, Rosina is simplicity itself variously in pale blue, green and white but always in solid colours. These piquant splashes on the starkly white set accentuate the characters while contributing to an overall look for the show.

The set is architecturally simple, using white streetscape, courtyard and interiors. Always lit in bleaching midday glare, furnishings and draperies are luxurious and billowing. Broken only by simple touches in grey and with potted plants. This vision of Seville is redolent of fresh white-wash and the smell of oranges. Elegant, sophisticated and unexpectedly modern in its classical form, the set gives a strong impression of the characters, their lives and lifestyles. The costumes maintain a fixed period look: breeches, stockings, waistcoats, ruffles and sweeping cloaks. Principally in white and black, they are augmented with individual colours and in the case of Figaro, by extensive bare flesh as he strips to his breeches to bathe accompanied by audible gasps from much of the audience.

All the elements of this gorgeous production would mean little without the superlative singing and playing. From the outset, Maestro Yves Abel led the Orchestra Sinfonica Nazionale della RAI in a performance which drew rowdy applause and appreciation from the audience. The overture was greeted vociferously and the intense stamping at the curtain calls were testament to the standard of the playing. Subtle and varied, Maestro Abel found nuances and complexities in the score which added to the impact and educative element of the performance. The Coro del Teatro Ventidio Basso were superb. Crisp, dazzlingly accurate and each one an actor with a developed character, resulting in their stage presence being an invaluable ornament to the telling of the story.

Davide Luciano’s Figaro is a peacock who struts the stage with confidence and aplomb. He is such a strong stage persona that it is difficult to take eyes off him even when others share the space. His voice is massive, agile and virile and his athleticism and swagger make this a riveting portrait of a crafty persuader completely in his element. Maxim Mironov’s Count Almaviva was slight of voice in the early parts of the first act but blossomed to full-throated vigour in the commanding numbers towards the latter part of the opera.

Aya Wakizono as Rosina is youthful, impetuous and stubborn. She sometimes overplays the girlish elements of Pizzi’s direction but the overall impression is a charming and entirely genuine character. Her voice is velvety smooth with beautiful transition from the chest to the upper register. She has a powerful instrument which she restrained to maintain the balance in some of the ensembles. Elena Zilio’s Berta is an unexpectedly real person. She ponders love and life but at the same time, lusts after a man who does not want her.

The two most experienced male performers Pietro Spagnoli as Bartolo and Michele Pertusi as Basilio are a textbook education on confidence, stagecraft and characterisation. Both deliver superbly, earning enormous appreciation during the show as much as at the final calls. Mr. Spagnoli’s rendition of the patter number was stunning: razor sharp, ditheringly comedic and hugely powerful, he dominated the stage and drew roars of approval at the conclusion of his big number.

This production is a gem that it is hoped will long be treasured by the ROF and by other companies. Arguably, this might be the best and most beautiful production of this opera yet seen. Pizzi has uncovered a Barber for the ages and it deserves to be seen by as wide an audience as possible. This reviewer is left wondering whether this might be the best opera production he has ever viewed. Quite probably so. Do not miss it: in the theatre or in HD telecast, this show is a delight.

Gregory Pritchard



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