As Rossini's Barber approaches at Engloish National Opera, a timely release here of his evergreen opera from Vienna with a high-level cast topped by clear star Juan Diego Flórez as the Count Almaviva; other night names include Ildar Abdreazakov as Don Basilio and Etienne Dupuis as Figaro.
The experienced conductor Michele Mariotti paces the opera beautifully. And for all Flòrez's star status, the cast works very well as an ensemble.
It is the staging that might be the deciding factor here: Stage Director and Set Designer is Herbert Fritsch. Rothko is the first artist to spring to mind. Panels slide around in psychedelic manner; apart from that props and scenery are largely absent. And yet the characters appear in period garb (costumes by Victoria Behr; lighting by Carsten Sander).
A male dancer adds mute commentary to the proceedings, sometimes ushering in characters in a sort of 'tah-dah' desire. This is certainly not the first time this has been done, and I am sure not the last; rarely have I see this slight add much to the experience, and this is no exception. In a sense there is a triangle of stage dissonance here, and its the friction between the three points that retains something of a fascination: the abstract setting against the traditional garb and wigs against the deliberately farce-likecomedic antics. That said, it's really the musical aspects of this production that add up to a recommendation, if not an unqualified one.
Here's the trailer:
If, in my mind at least, Flórez' defining role of recent years has been Tonio in Donizetti's La Fille du régiment (his “Ah Mes amis” bringing the house down at Covent Garden every single time) and he no longer sounds quite as fresh as before, he certainly has the stamina. His opening “Ecco rodent in cielo” was beautifully phrased with a true grasp of bel canto; and he still had plenty in reserve for his final aria (“Cassa in più resistere”).
Etienne Dupuis is in commanding voice as Figaro. You can see that dancing figure “introduce” Figro at his snterance, and how the sliding colour panels of Fritsch's production work as you watch the famous “Largo al factotum” below:
Vasilisa Berzhanskaya was making her Vienna State Opera debut with this Rosina, and cvocally she is the complete package across the entire range. While the Rosina du jour is Marina Viotti, Berzhanskaya is a brilliantly convincing interpreter (topped with a striking pink wig) Here she is, with Dupuis, in “Dunque io son”:
As Bartolo, Paolo Bordogna is in fine form, and you can see the rather silly duet, “Pace e Gigia,” between Bartolo and Flórez (in truly ridiculous ageing hippie garb!) below:
There isn't really a weak link in the cast. And it is hardly a surprise Mariotti conducts so well. It was actually the opera that launched his career: at Selerno, Italy, in 2005, and he speaks in interview about finding new layers each and every time he conducts the work. That freshness is clearly instilled into the orchestra and chorus of the Vienna State Opera, teh chorus in finely disciplined form.
The Bluray may be purchased via Amazon here.