September 2, 2014
The Barber of Seville, still new and wonderful
For the Herald
Rossini’s sparkling opera buffa is back at the Colón after nine years
Gioacchino Rossini’s The Barber of Seville (Il barbiere di Siviglia) is back at the Colón after nine years, and the wonder of it again amazes me. This maximum epitome of the “opera buffa,” written in a short few weeks, remains inexhaustible and fresh, as only true masterpieces can be. Our city stages it often, and only last year we had a rather good one from Juventus Lyrica, so The Barber... wasn’t really necessary, but the valid argument can be that the Colón is an international house and the cast brought us interesting new artists; and nine years is rather long between Barbers.
Apart from that, there was a further attraction: Mauricio Wainrot, Argentina’s most important choreographer, was facing his first operatic production, and there was curiosity in seeing how he faced the challenge.
I have often written about The Barber, so I will only stress again that Cesare Sterbini’s libretto adapts with great skill Beaumarchais’ perfect comedy. Rather late in life, I read that the overture comes from two dramatic operas: Aureliano in Palmira and Elisabetta, Regina d’Inghilterra. And I was deeply surprised, since it is such a bubbly piece; but one essential matter had escaped me: not a single melody of the rest of The Barber is contained in this overture.
The Colón made some changes on the announced artists as they are in the booklet that covers the whole season: French conductor Frédéric Chaslin was substituted by Miguel Ángel Gómez Martínez, and the Figaro was Mario Cassi instead of Changyong Liao. Chaslin is a good musician, but I was happy that Gómez Martínez returned. In fact, I found his conducting to be the best thing about this revival: obtaining an excellent sound and precision from a Colón Orchestra on its toes; his tempi were perhaps a trifle moderate in some cases but mostly they preserved the ebullient quality essential for Rossini and he obtained as true maestro concertatore a very good ensemble in such things as the marvellous First Act finale. The Choir under Miguel Martínez was very efficient.
All the singers were at least good, but I give pride of place to the two basses. The Colón audience knew Carlo Lepore from his excellent Don Magnifico in La Cenerentola two years ago, and his Don Bartolo was equally satisfactory both as actor and singer. Marco Spotti (debut) as Don Basilio has the right tall thin presence and showed a well-focused voice of very adequate timbre, managed with skill and taste. He would also be welcome in serious roles (he has quite a career already).
We met Mario Cassi when he sang in 2012 Mercadante’s I due Figaro. He has a robust voice of good metal, though he lacks subtlety, and he is a good comedian. Although Juan Francisco Gatell (debut) is a young Argentine born in La Plata, his career has been European. He has the right tenore leggiero voice for Almaviva, but I found he wasn’t fully settled at first; gradually he became more confident, and was a sympathetic actor. Later I found out that he had been unwell, and that explained why he cut his long aria in the Finale (I went to the second performance of The Barber; he had sung it the day before). In fact I prefer the Finale without that aria, largely based on Cenerentola’s exit aria, for it disrupts the continuity of the closing minutes.
Marina Comparato (debut) proved a well-practised Rosina; her voice is pleasant though without special distinction, and she was markedly better in her Second Act Rondo (the Music Lesson) than In una voce poco fa. She acts with a sense of fun.
Patricia González was an acceptable Berta and Fernando Grassi a brilliant Fiorello in true buffo tradition.
And now let’s turn to Wainrot’s production, in which he had the collaboration of Graciela Galán as stage and costume designer. The programme was clear: Wainrot is producer and choreographer. Of course The Barber isn’t meant to be danced, so it’s a matter of taste whether you accept this or not; I don’t because I think it affects its essence. I am seeing a fast comedy, not an opera-ballet. And I certainly don’t accept an acted and danced overture; they are only meant to be heard.
However, there was authentic comic give-and-take, and the cast was agile. Many situations were well understood and communicated, so in this sense his work was good. But why that intrusive and kitschy Cupid in white, why such an abusive presence of the narcoleptic servant Ambrogio (neither is even mentioned in the hand programme!). Why aren’t both Basilio and Don Alonso (the travestied Almaviva) clad as ecclesiasticals, when such is the purpose of Sterbini? (a curate proposing calumny as a method). Also, the final scene isn’t clear enough: he places it in a balcony and in the street and some matters don’t work out. The Barber is tricky...
Graciela Galán gives us two agreeable sceneries: the street and the living-room of Bartolo’s house. Colours are bright also for the costumes, and this maintains the joyous ambience this opera needs. There’s little local character but she avoids jangling modernities. All in all, better than the Colón Barbers of 2005, 1997 and 1991, though hardly on a par with the last great presentations, in 1962 and 1969.
Where and when
Teatro Colón, Cerrito 628. Today, 8.30pm.