Il Barbiere di Siviglia 2014 Review

Il Barbiere di Siviglia – ROF 2014
From Charles Jernigan’s review – with many thanks

Because of Italy’s budget crisis (the country recently fell into recession for the second time since 2008), the Festival, in common with almost all arts organizations in the country, is suffering severe funding problems. The locally-based company which was the long-time chief sponsor of the Festival had to pull out a few years ago, and the Italian government has severely cut its subsidies to the arts, including the Rossini Opera Festival. Still they soldier on, and The Barber was a case in point. The production was given to the students of the Academy of Fine Arts of the University of Urbino. That perfect little Renaissance art town (birthplace of Raphael) is only thirty miles away from Pesaro. The students were challenged to come up with a production where they could hardly use the stage of the Teatro Rossini (already occupied by sets for Aureliano in Palmira), with a budget of practically Zero and almost no rehearsal time. They had two weeks before the Festival to put their planning into practice. But necessity is the mother of invention, as Plato is supposed to have said, and the students’ Barbiere was nothing if not inventive.Because the stage could be used only sporadically, much of the action took place in the aisles of the orchestra seating section, a box went for Rosina’s balcony, and the only “set” was a model of the Teatro Rossini itself. The young Figaro (Florian Sempey) was seated in an orchestra seat, unbeknownst to the audience, and began is “La ran la re la”‘s from there. The sleazy Basilio entered down an aisle in a sort of Pope Sedan Chair, singing. Balloons floated to the ceiling of the eighteenth century opera house and Rosina threw her billet-doux for the Count from a box into the audience; it landed in the lap of a friend who was seated in the first row, and Almaviva came to her to receive it. And so it went.

The students also stripped almost all the time-worn buffo bits from the production, and introduced new visual jokes that kept everyone laughing. Singers wore more or less contemporary costumes, except for Don Basilio, who was dressed as a curate, as he should be. Figaro, Almaviva (Juan Francisco Gatell) and Rosina (Chiara Amarú) were all young. Old hand Paolo Bordogna made a youngish, thin Bartolo, contrary to tradition, but Alex Esposito (also an old hand at Rossini comedy) was the best in the singing department with his Calunnia aria. Everyone did a competent job, and if they were not always as amazing vocally as more experienced singers, they compensated with youthful energy and enthusiasm. In Figaro’s aria, when he sings about doing women’s hair, he tweaked the coif of a lady in the audience.There were a few strange bits I did not understand. Why did some of the silent players wear dog masks? Why did a silent stage manager (maybe) sit in the middle of the stage for most of the opera, looking bored, and why did he shoot a waiter (another non singing role) at the opera’s end? I suppose it was supposed to be avant-garde, but avant towards what? Mostly these flukes did not detract from the joy of the whole, and the fact that so much of it was sung from the audience spaces made this a very intimate performance indeed. Tickets were impossible to obtain and people stood outside holding signs begging for anyone having an extra ticket to sell. Il barbiere was advertised as a semi-staged production, but that was only because the chorus members had no costumes and stood at the back when needed, and because the “stage” was everywhere. I loved it.

Mr. Gatell, by the way, sang the impossibly difficult “Cessa di piú resistere,” and sang it well with his lovely, light tenor. The young Giacomo Sagripanti conducted the Bologna Teatro Comunale Orchestra and the San Carlo Chorus of Pesaro frenetically. The orchestra and the conductor did not always seem to be on the same page, but necessity being the mother of invention, we ALL had a great time, the audience, the singers and the players. It was infectious.