Il Barbiere di Siviglia, a classic of the opera world, has returned to Glyndebourne this summer. Directed by Annabel Arden, designed by Joanna Parker, and with Enrique Mazzola conducting the London Philharmonic in his trademark red glasses, it’s the festival’s first new production of the Rossini classic in thirty-five years. Two hundred years since its first performance in Rome, this opera buffa remains not just one of the most popular comic operas but one of the most popular operas of all time.
Based on the 1775 French play of the same name by Pierre Beaumarchais, the first in a trilogy of plays (the others being The Marriage of Figaro and The Guilty Mother), it has become the most enduring of the operatic versions of the play. Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro has become the trilogy’s most famous operatic version and is also being performed at Glyndebourne this year, with a restaging of its superb 2012 production. Unfortunately, no opera of The Guilty Mother has ever taken hold with the viewing public and so we won’t be treated to the full trio.
The orchestra struck up that famous overture, laying out the exquisite themes we were to return to throughout the performance, before the curtain rose and we found ourselves beneath a window in a Seville street. A band of musicians await the arrival of Count Almaviva in the guise of the poor Lindoro who is to serenade the woman of his dreams, who lives in the house. Taylor Stayton makes his way on stage as the Count, with his sideburns, frilled shirt and floor length silver leather jacket all calling to mind Julian Clary crossed with a sixties mod. From the moment he walks across the stage to the window, stepping on two chairs that his servants rotate forward as he moves, the tone for the production is set.
Throughout, you could almost hear Arden telling the cast to just have fun with this comic tale of love, triple identities, wits, marriage and skulduggery. Every aspect of the production, from the voices to the staging, is full of joy and abandon. Usually in a review one would pick out a few voices of note, but in this case that is impossible. A few years back, one might have felt Glyndebourne to be falling flat on the quality of the voices but, over the last few years, they have been getting better and better. With this production there wasn’t a bum note, let alone voice. Each singer was superb and supported by the ever-impressive Glyndebourne chorus.
Stayton’s Count Almaviva was light and jubilant, while Alessandro Corbelli as Dr Bartolo sang and played the role to perfection with the audience howling with laughter during his rakish performance in the piano lesson scene at the start of Act II. However, Christophoros Stamboglis won a special place in the audience’s heart as the corrupt, devious and mercenary priest Basilio, with his comically camp performance.
Of course Björn Bürger as Figaro can’t go unmentioned. He was mischievous and full of joie de vivre, bounding on stage via the orchestra pit and a conversation with Mazzola as he broke into his famous aria, Largo al Factotum. The result of this wonderful rendition came in the form of applause that would not have been out of place at the final curtain. Figaro’s entrance was just the start of the breaking of the fourth wall and the involvement of Mazzola as a cast member; a staging and comic ploy can fail to work or be over used, but here it was pulled off faultlessly.
Danielle de Niese, aka Mrs Christie, as Rosina, the love interest, was, as is always the case with her, enchanting. Her performance had that joyful diva quality, in the best possible sense. This was the first time I had seen her perform since she gave birth last year, and I think her voice had more body to it than the last time I saw her a few years back at Glyndebourne – not an uncommon positive side-effect, I hear.
The only aspect I felt lacking was some of the playing by the orchestra. At times it felt they were performing by rote and it didn’t match the enthusiasm both on stage and coming from their conductor. When it did reach the same levels of joy, it usually required them to build to it, as in the case of Largo al Factotum. It was as if they were forgetting to smile and have fun as they played. However, when the gusto did match what was on stage, they were visibly enjoying themselves and playing with increased passion.
Put simply, this production will lift your soul and, if you can get tickets – there are some returns available – please do. I can’t remember the last production I enjoyed so much. I could wax lyrical about far more, but it would be wrong to rob those of you going of the chance to discover it for yourself.
Image © Glyndebourne Productions Ltd. Photo: Bill Cooper