Rossini - Il barbiere di Siviglia (The Barber of Seville) / Dario Fo, Zedda, Larmore, Croft, Netherlands Opera
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For his first opera production, Dario Fo, the theater director known for his brilliant wit, chose to stage Rossini's Il Barbiere di Siviglia for the Netherlands Opera. First mounted in 1987, it was a huge success, and a live recording of its revival in May 1992, the 200th anniversary of Rossini's birth, has been made. Fo has said that "Rossini is the musician of eating and love. He composes music rich in herbs and aromas, in which you find olives, tomatoes, fish, grapes, roses and rosemary, sheets and tablecloths, dry wine and the laughter of girls." His Barbiere is a joyful carnival. During the overture, he fills the stage with carnival revellers, and immediately the commedia dell'arte origins of opera buffa are restored. Visual theatrics abound, never at the expense of the music, but highlighting it, engaging the eye as well as the ear. Fo addresses the heart more than the intellect, and Rossini's comedy comes up dazzling and vital. The Italian conductor Alberto Zedda is a Rossini specialist par excellence, and his scintillating interpretation of the music (which is performed in his own critical edition), together with his unflagging energy, draws a magnificent display of playing from The Netherlands Chamber Orchestra. The cast includes Richard Croft as Count Almaviva, David Malis as Figaro, Renato Carecchi as Bartolo and the acclaimed Rossini virtuoso Jennifer Larmore as Rosina. Italian with English subtitles
In an audio recording, the distinctive quality of this Netherlands Opera production would go unnoticed, and a lot of people might like it better without pictures. The singing is first-class, with a pert, smart, visually appealing Rosina (Jennifer Larmore), a Count Almaviva who can spin out bel canto melodies and also do a good drunk scene (Richard Croft), a Figaro with lots of personality (David Malis). And conductor Alberto Zedda is an expert in the music of Rossini. But video brings out the fact that, for better or for worse, this Barber of Seville differs radically from other treatments of Rossini's comic masterpiece.
Usually The Barber of Seville is an intimate little comedy with a half-dozen solo roles and a small, all-male chorus. Except for a few ensemble numbers, there are usually only two or three people on stage at any given moment, often conversing in stage whispers. Sometimes, in a plot full of secrets and deceptions, supernumeraries are out of place.
Dario Fo's staging ignores this stylistic tradition. He gives the solo singers a crowd of artfully choreographed silent partners (including acrobats, dancers, and two men rigged to imitate a donkey), who scamper around the stage carrying ladders and sheets, pushing platforms, waving banners, and making sure that there is always something to amuse the eyes as well as the ears. This staging gives a solid visual embodiment to the comic spirit of the words and music, but it wipes out any pretense of dramatic realism. The Barber of Seville does not pretend to be "a slice of life" and many patrons will find that the energy of these added participants is its own justification. But those who treasure traditional staging and the conventions of realism should be ready for a lively but unconventional production. Perhaps they can listen with their eyes closed and enjoy a first-class sound recording. --Joe McLellanSee all Editorial Reviews
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Top customer reviews
NOT HERE ! DARIO FO EXCITES THE STAGE with live acting; AND
actually brings it closer to THE TRUE VERSION of the comic opera
Rossini intended. The Italian clowns interact with the performance and truely enhance it. The singing of Figaro's
"Largo al factotum" is the best ever recorded ! The singing
of the whole opera has an unusual LIFE to it, AND actually
sounds amazingly like the spirit of Rossini himself was inspiring
everyone ! Alberto Zedda conducts the orchestra in such a manner that it seems to have an amazing insight into the music.
Even the Overture is performed in a way I noticed certain tonalities I never noticed before. The balance between orchestra
and singer is so amazing you wonder if they aren't actually
communicating telepathically. Even the added actors must have memorized every note, and carefully planned each movement.
The recording is loud and clear --excellent !
IT IS MORE FUNNY THAN THE BUGS BUNNY VERSION-- AND
MORE TRUE TO ROSSINI THAN ANY OTHER VERSION.
I almost wonder if Salvador Dali inspired some scenes ?
'He gives the solo singers a crowd of artfully choreographed silent partners (including acrobats, dancers, and two men rigged to imitate a donkey), who scamper around the stage carrying ladders and sheets, pushing platforms, waving banners, and making sure that there is always something to amuse the eyes as well as the ears. This staging gives a solid visual embodiment to the comic spirit of the words and music, but it wipes out any pretense of dramatic realism.'
The second brilliant star is Jennifer Larmore's truly amazing Rossina! Judging from this perfomance, Larmore could be the best Rossini (coloratura) mezzo since Marilyn Horne. For what my ears' worth, she outshines Cecilia Bartoli (in Schwetzingen Festival) and Joyce DiDonato (in ROH), to name 2 favorites, in their *DVD performances*. Even though the role of Rossina does not require an extremely wide range, one can hear that Larmore has very wide and *even* vocal range, superbly agile coloratura technique, and a beautiful voice to match. She is also a charming actress. Besides being an Rossini/bel canto mezzo, Larmore is known as a remarkable Handelian (trouser-role) singer, as documented in her award-winning portrait of Cesare in Handel - Giulio Cesare / Jacobs, probably the best sung Cesare I've heard. I wonder why she isn't much, much more popular.(*2)
As for other singers, Richard Croft's Count Almaviva is very good, but he faces incomparable Juan Diego Flórez in ROH Production and in Teatro Real Production. David Malis's Figaro is good too, but probably not one for ages.(*4) Alberto Zedda's music direction is a small disappointment, especially considering the fact that he is regarded as a "Rossini expert". Compared with other recordings I have, for example by Antonio Pappano (in the ROH production) or by Alceo Galliera, this is a heavy-handed conduction which loses some of the Rossinian charm.
This might not be a DVD for everyone. For an all-rounded and better "balanced" performance, there are the Met production,ROH Production and Schwetzingen Festival production, to name 3. However, if you have eyes for theater, and ears for (mezzo) voice, this is not to be missed. For any Rossini fan, this is a must-buy for Larmore's singing alone.
This DVD is a recorded performance, staged in DNO (Netherlands Opera) in 1992 on the occasion of the 200th anniversary of Rossini's birth.
There are currently two versions of this performance available: Image Entertainment Edition and Kultur Edition. Be sure to go for the Image Entertainment DVD which has the uncompressed LPCM sound track. The Kultur DVD with only compressed Dolby Digital 2.0 audio (ouch!) sounds flat next to the Image Entertainment DVD. It's in the full-screen (4:3) format and neither has any booklet introduction.
P.S. Did I say 2 stars while marking 5? Yes, but 2 superstars are worth more than 5 Amazon stars!
(*1) Dario Fo (born March 24, 1926) is an Italian satirist, playwright, theater director, actor, and composer.... He was awarded the 1997 Nobel Prize in Literature, with the committee highlighting him as a writer "who emulates the jesters of the Middle Ages in scourging authority and upholding the dignity of the downtrodden". -- From Wikipedia.
(*2) For many people, Larmore is known to have sung in the closing ceremony of the 1996 summer olympics at Atlanta, where she is a native.
For the Cesare recording, a budget reissue Handel: Operas - Flavio, Giulio Cesare & Rinaldo which contains the above recording plus Flavio and Rinaldo is likely to be a better choice.
(*3) Interestingly, all 3 leading roles in this production are performed by Americans. (Really, I'd love to see more fine American productions in DVDs. But with the current level of public support of fine arts, this is a pipe dream.)
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