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For an obsequious Figaro, an ingratiating production of “Barbiere”

Nationaltheater München
02/21/2004 -  February 16, 18
Gioacchino Rossini: Il barbiere di Siviglia
Reinaldo Macias (Count Almaviva), Bruno Practicò (Bartolo), Carmen Oprisanu (Rosina), Albert Schagidullin (Figaro), Jan-Henrik Rootering (Basilio), Christian Rieger (Fiorello), Ferry Gruber (Ambrogio), Marita Knobel (Berta)
Ferruccio Soleri (production), Carlo Tommasi (set designer), Ute Frühling (costume designer), Eduard Asimont (choral director), Michael Bauer (lighting designer)
Harry Bicket (conductor), Das Bayerische Staatsorchester and Der Chor der Bayerischen Staatsoper

In his Act I aria, “Largo al factotum,” Figaro boasts about his full and happy life as the neighborhood “do-it-all”: “Ready to do everything, night and day, always on the run … Everyone asks me, everyone wants me.” But just as Figaro is reputed for his willingness to grant each townperson’s request, the current performances of Il barbiere di Siviglia at the Bayerische Staatsoper will be remembered for their ingratiating and predictable staging. This 1989 production, while entertaining, does nothing to advance the appreciation of Gioacchino Rossini’s comic masterpiece or capitalize on the sense of fun built into the story.

Indeed, the trilogy of Figaro plays by Beaumarchais leaves a great deal of room for laughter. Rossini sensed the comic potential therein, and though he saw no point in trying to improve on Mozart’s “Le nozze di Figaro,” he did seek Giovanni Paisiello’s permission for use of the libretto from his earlier version of “Le Barbier de Séville.” (The composer cheerfully agreed, certain that Rossini’s version would meet little success.) In a matter of weeks – some sources say his procrastinating tendencies left him with only seven days – Rossini managed to produce one of his most successful works. Notoriously lazy, he recycled music (the overture of Barbiere had been attached to three previous works) and relied heavily on his own formulas (his cavatina-cabaletta combo among them). In spite of this history, however, modern opera houses are not entitled to the same sort of behavior in producing static, stale stagings. Rossini’s inexhaustible flow of melody was inventive, and few modern productions of his work can make this same claim.

While Munich’s staging itself contained no spontaneity or surprise, the singers – some relatively new to their roles – did impart a sense of light-heartedness and delight. Figaro was sung by Albert Schagidullin, a young Russian baritone who is not a newcomer to either Barbiere or the Munich stage. His rich tone was coupled with vocal complexity that did nothing to impede its agility, and his experience and confidence in the role spilled over into his stage presence. His sun-kissed skin, trim physique and Latin locks made him a very believable Andalusian charmer.

The other notable of the evening was Jan-Henrik Rootering, who brought depth and dignity to the role of Basilio. Rootering, a bass-baritone better known for his skill in Wagnerian roles, showed himself to be just as capable of Italian comedy as German drama.

Count Almaviva, here sung by tenor Reinaldo Macias, was at moments drowned out by the orchestra and pushed in his upper range. Carmen Oprisanu, who was replacing an absent Vivica Genaux, gave Rosina an aristocratic sound, full of vibrato, but was patchy overall. Bruno Praticò provided a strong Bartolo, and Nikolay Borchev (Fiorello), Ferry Gruber (Ambrogio) and Aarona Bogdan (Berta) managed solid supporting roles.

In the orchestra pit, Harry Bicket seemed ill-at-ease with Rossini’s score. The Munich orchestra, while polished, was not lead to capitalize on the dynamic range built into the music, missing out on the power of the Rossini crescendo. Lighting was notably poor – far from the warm ambiance of Seville – and costumes unremarkable but suited to the staging.

Though they may dampen the work’s whimsy and wit, no skilled performance of Rossini’s comedy can extinguish the amusement of “Barbiere.” Saturday’s audience fell for the predictable physical comedy and melodic familiarity of the score, proving that there will always be room for the tried and true in the company’s repertoire. Still, this sort of sure-fire crowd-pleaser shouldn’t encourage opera houses to exploit tired productions, no matter how many tickets they sell.

Alexandra Day



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