Rossini Il barbiere di Siviglia C Major

Gioachino Rossini (1792–1868)
Il barbiere di Siviglia
Juan Diego Flórez (tenor) – Il conte d’Almaviva
Étienne Dupuis (baritone) – Figaro 
Vasilisa Berzhanskaya (mezzo) – Rosina
Paolo Bordogna (bass) – Dr Bartolo
Ildar Abdrazakov (bass) – Don Basilio
Aurora Marthens (soprano) – Berta
Stefan Astakhov (tenor) – Fiorello
Chorus and Orchestra of the Vienna State Opera/Michele Mariotti
rec. live, October, 2021,Vienna State Opera, Austria
C Major 765308 DVD [170]

This new DVD is a perfect example of a very talented cast buried in the ruins of a dismal production that should not have seen the light of day. Stage director and designer Herbert Fritsch decided that the constant motion in Rossini’s score needs to be represented onstage, among the singers. What he delivered is a production that is garishly costumed around the time of Beaumarchais but with no sets or props. There are a series of coloured panels that constantly shift around the stage, as if a bunch of pieces of stained glass cannot settle into place. Additionally he directs all of the principals to be in constant motion at all times. The effect is as if everyone in Seville is suffering from advanced Tourette’s Syndrome. There is a very old rule about playing onstage comedy that dictates the performer should take the situation seriously because it is the situation that is funny; if the performer is trying to act funny then the humour will fall completely flat. This staging is a good 2.5 hours of people trying to be exaggeratedly funny and not achieving it.

The only saving grace here is the excellent lineup of singers that Vienna assembled for the production. Juan Diego Flórez is quite impressive as Almaviva. In 2005 I attended a Viennese performance of L’Italiana in Algeri in which he was the star attraction. Here 16 years later, he has lost none of his amazing flexibility of voice. With the passing of the years his voice has acquired an added warmth and maturity to his middle and lower range that I find most attractive. No apology needs to be made for this performance of “Cessa di piu resistere” which is as accomplished as it ever was.

The newcomer is mezzo Vasilisa Berzhanskaya, a singer of real star quality who is as beautiful to behold as she is to listen to. She has a finely tuned voice with a round warm timbre; her ability to sing Rossini’s coloratura accurately is especially striking. She also possesses an on-stage charm which allows her to ride above the nonsensical movement that the director demanded of her.

Étienne Dupuis is a vocally well-endowed Figaro. His rich, meaty baritone tackles all of Rossini’s challenges and emerges as one of the finest Figaro’s of the current generation. Hopefully his forays into Verdi will not prevent him from keeping bel canto roles like this one in his repertoire. 

Among the other singers, Ildar Abdrazakov is a delightfully wicked Don Basilio, most convincing in his aria. Of all of the performers it is he who manages to emerge relatively unscathed from the directorial excess. Paolo Bordogna is a refreshingly virile Bartolo. His voice is weighty and his characterization is a figure that is no ageing fool but a more formidable adversary, despite the nonsense he is asked to engage in. Aurora Marthens is a worthy Berta and gives an enjoyable account of her “aria di sorbetto”.

Michele Mariotti conducts a lively perofromance, almost too lively at times. Every now and then he tries to place a personal stamp on the flow of Rossini’s music which emerges as sudden burst of sound in an odd place, or at one point, an especially curious ritardando. I find often I don’t agree with them but they do enhance the performance in the case of an extremely distracting production. The sound and picture of this release are first rate all-around.

Rossini’s Barber of Seville has a beating heart that lies underneath the comedy; in Herbert Fritsch’s production that heart has been flat-lined. The depressing reality is that Vienna will be stuck with this dud of a staging for a long time to come.

Mike Parr

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Other cast members:
Alejandro Pizarro-Enriquez – Officer
Ambrogio – Ruth Brauer Kvam

Production Details:
Stage Director and Set Designer – Herbert Fritsch
Costume Designer – Victoria Behr
Lighting Designer – Carsten Sander

Video details:
Video Director – Leopold Knötzl
Region Code 0 (worldwide)
DVD-9 double-layer discs
16:9 anamorphic
Audio formats: LPCM 2.0 and DTS 5.0
Subtitles in Italian, English, German, Korean, French, Spanish, Japanese