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Rossini Il barbiere di Siviglia
Royal Opera, Covent Garden 21 December 2005

Conductor: Mark Elder
Directors: Moshe Leiser & Patrice Caurier
Set Designs: Christian Fenouillat
Costume Designs: Agostino Cavalca
Lighting: Christophe Forey

Rosina: Joyce DiDonato
Count Almaviva: Toby Spence
Figaro: George Petean
Doctor Bartolo: Bruno Praticò
Don Basilio: Raymond Aceto
Berta: Elizabeth Gale
Fiorello: Robert Gleadow


Predictably, this Christmas Barber is collecting mixed reviews. No problems with the musical direction of Mark Elder and the razor-sharp ensemble work between stage and a helpfully raised pit. Nor with the delightful Rosina, Joyce DiDonato, a very accomplished mezzo who leaves no doubt from the outset that she is fully in charge; she could outwit all the men without needing help from Figaro. Good singing generally from a strong cast, hampered by costumes and what they're asked to do in them, by direction which never asks for suspension of disbelief.

But maybe it's just not a show to see at a 1 p.m. matinée, and of necessity on one's own because of pressure on press tickets?

The test of a joke is whether you laugh at it. Mostly I didn't, finding the humour heavy and frankly dull.

There are good moments, when the serenaders (a whole orchestra of them) appear above the parapet and, likewise, the first sight of the policemen's heads.

But in neither case is it that funny to have them then fall around on the stage nor, after the first time, to have the stage heave itself itself up and down with vertiginous slopes (emulatling Billy Budd's ship at the Coliseum) tipping its human contents down to left and right as the machinery shows off its capabilities.

Toby Spence was helped up (nearly out of our sight) on to a wobbly olive tree to sing his serenade, and jumped down to a heavy landing (no Simon Keenlyside, he). False noses and brash colours signalled that you were not to waste time thinking about the social background as provided in learned length by writers in the programme, who aren't privy to the show we're going to see.

The problem for me was that the depth of Lucerne Opera's ground-breaking exploration, and inspired development of the characters (e.g. the relationship between Bartolo and Berta) is so fresh in mind that a superficial take on the opera no longer satisfies, and even Lucerne's local orchestra under John Axelrod gives nothing to Elder & the ROH.

If you like these pictures, you'll probably enjoy this show; take it as a Christmas romp and it'll make a good family outing. It can also be seen on TV 30 January; BBC 4 7.30.

Other reviews:
- - EITHER seasonal goodwill or too much seasonal booze persuades me to give a charitable thumbs half-up to the Royal Opera's new Barber - - (The Times)
- - Treat yourself to a ticket, if only to hear and see Joyce DiDonato’s stupendous Rosina - - (MusicOMH)

Robert Hugill enjoyed it (mostly) for mvdaily


Photos: :  Bill Cooper (for more pictures & reviews see The Opera Critic - 15 day free trial for non-members)

© Peter Grahame Woolf