Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Paisiello's Barbiere di Siviglia

On Saturday afternoon, in the middle of my week-long Nozze binge, I was happy to see Giovanni Paisiello's 1782 setting of Il Barbiere di Siviglia. This was, of course, part of dell'Arte Opera Ensemble's Beaumarchais Trilogy. (Recall that Pierre Beaumarchais [1732-1799] wrote the plays on which Le Nozze di Figaroand Il Barbiere di Siviglia are based.) I congratulate dell'Arte Opera for the work they have done in creating this Beaumarchais season, and for the work they do every season in providing real training for singers cast in their productions. Performances continue through August 30, and I highly recommended catching as many as you can.

Paisiello's Il Barbiere di Siviglia was first performed in 1782, and Rossini's version in 1816. Paisiello's opera was still wildly successful, even in Rossini's time, and Paisiello supporters nearly caused the suppression of the Rossini version. In our own time the Rossini version is much more popular, although there are some lovely moments in the Paisiello.

Although I usually start with the vocal elements of a production, in this case I must start with some of the visual elements. Those familiar with the opera know the importance of a letter to the story line. Rosina writes the letter to the Count Almaviva, whom she believes to be the penniless Lindoro. The letter changes hands several times in various attempts at deception and trickery. Scenic Designer Meganne George and Costume Designer Carly Bradt have created a visual universe that makes more references to that letter than you can imagine. In ways that are neither cheap nor chintzy, we see the letter in elements of the set and of costumes. I think this is very clever.

The storyline is very close to that of Rossini, although the librettists are different (Giuseppe Petrosellini for Paisiello, Cesare Sterbini for Rossini). In both cases, without a stellar Rosina, you have no show. For Saturday's performance of the Paisiello version, we had Alessandra Altieri, and we were not disappointed. Although Rossini's Rosina is sometimes performed by a soprano, we nowadays associate the role with a lyric mezzo-soprano. Not so with Paisiello, whose Rosina is 100% soprano. Ms. Altieri lists roles like Gretel, Despina, and Sophie among her credits, so we knew we were getting a high soubrette or lyric coloratura of the first quality. She brought a shimmering vocal sound and a very solid technique to the coloratura and legato demands of the role, and was also a joy to see act on stage.

Almaviva was the very good tenor Jonathan Morales, whose tone quality and stage persona suggested the young and ardent lover who had a sense of humor. One wished Mr. Paisiello had written more gratifying music for young Almaviva to sing, but we were nonetheless left with the feeling that Mr. Morales could easily sing the Paisiello Almaviva one night and the Rossini Almaviva the next. Figaro was baritone Sean Kroll, also a fine singer. (It did seem to take a little while for him to become accustomed to singing in the performance space.) He had the cocky, "I know what I'm doing" air of a good Figaro while also being the avuncular figure Rosina and the story need. Cherubino is not part of this stage of the story, but several useful and amusing servants are, including the hysterically funny Giovinetto of William Mulligan.

Daniela Candillari led the Metamorphosis Chamber Orchestra quite well, and Emilie Rault's stage direction was clever and functional.  There are two more performances of this opera, on August 26 and 29, and I urge  you to see one of them.  

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