Tuesday, 26 July 2016

BBC Proms: Glydebourne: The Barber of Seville ★★★★

Taylor Stayton as Count Almaviva and Alessandro Corbelli as Dr Bartolo in Rossini’s The Barber of Seville at the BBC Proms 2016
Copyright: BBC/Chris Christodoulou
Glyndebourne has returned to the Proms for Rossini’s mad opera of disguises and shaved beards, where the smiles and double entendres never seem to end. It is the first time that the BBC Proms have added The Barber of Seville to its programme, performed as a semi-stage presentation, and as last night highlighted it proved to be a spectacular night of giddiness, charming music and theatrical comedy.

The opera, based on the first of a triology of plays by Beaumarchais, follows the journey of the Count (Taylor Stayton) as he seeks means to claim his love Rosina (Danielle de Niese), yet her brutish bore of a guardian Bartolo (Alessandro Corbelli) intends to marry her, and keep her for himself. But then, there is Figaro (Björn Bürger) – he’s the fixer. Together with the Count, Figaro assists him in his mission for love whilst getting themselves into numerous silly mishaps.

Both lead characters Figaro and the count, performed by Bürger and Stayton, are confident and animated - they play off well together. Vocally and theatrically they make a good duo, like jumping into each other’s laps, and harmonise with poise and lyricism. Corbelli gave a mighty and hilarious performance as the curmudgeon Bartolo, and was a great sport at it. In certain parts Corbelli had to sing fast and his vocal skills and timbre may have been compromised, but there’s an edge to his talents which makes him completely likable and amusing to watch.
Danielle de Niese as Rosina and Alessandro Corbelli as Dr Bartolo in Rossini’s The Barber of Seville at the BBC Proms 2016
Copyright: BBC/Chris Christodoulou
Niese, the wife of Glyndebourne’s chairman’s grandson, envisions Rosina to be a strong-willed cheeky flirt with eyes only for one man Lindoro, who the Count disguises himself as. Although her Rosina may bat her eyelids and appear tied to Bartolo's chambers, Niese assures the audience that Rosina has a spirit that wants to run free, away from a restricted married life with Bartolo's crankiness. Her Una voce poco fa was dynamic and entertaining; it called for a huge round of applauses as her voice was loud enough for the Royal Albert Hall to hear, yet I’ve heard stronger performers of Rosina’s pinnacle aria elsewhere. As she specified in an interview with Rebecca Franks, she is aware that Rossini wrote some parts of the opera for ‘super-high ranges’ and as she is a lyric, not coloratura, soprano, who sticks with the mezzo-soprano range, this inevitably causes some challenges for her.  Nonetheless her performance was an impressive one, which enthralled prommers, including the male prommer who she ran to – she gave him a quick kiss on the cheek and jumped back on the stage again (well, that’s what I gathered from my seat).

Italian conductor Enrique Mazzola provided Rossini’s sweet scented score with a dash of stage pizazz. This was light-heartedly performed by the London Philharmonic Orchestra demonstrated through delightful harps, graceful clarinets and lively strings which enchanted prommers. Mazzola and the LPO also played a part in the storyline frolics too, by breaking the fourth wall; passing Rosina’s love letter to the Count and Mazzola having fun with the grumpy Bartolo who seemed to think he knew more about music than the maestro.
Conductor Enrique Mazzola and Alessandro Corbelli as Dr Bartolo in Rossini’s The Barber of Seville at the BBC Proms 2016
Copyright: BBC/Chris Christodoulou
Joanna Parker’s costume designs seemed to set our opera somewhere in Seville in the 17th century, with vivacious and handsome colours yet there were slices of the modern shown through Stayton’s cool full-length jacket and Niese tightly fitted, glamorous dresses. 

Director Sinéad O’Neil's staging is a simple yet effective one. The performance at the Royal Albert Hall was clean, witty and infectiously fun. To think that the premier of the opera was a sham in 1816 baffles me as performances like last night, where there's a joke hidden in every corner of the staging, verify why The Barber of Seville is a popular masterpiece  - not only composed to entertain opera newbies. 
Danielle de Niese as Rosina, Björn Bürger as Figaro, Taylor Stayton as Count Almaviva and Janis Kelly as Berta in Rossini’s The Barber of Seville at the BBC Proms 2016
Copyright: BBC/Chris Christodoulou
If you would like more information about the BBC Proms and future events, please click here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/proms

Wednesday, 6 July 2016

ROH: Il trovatore ★★★★

Left to Right: Christopher Maltman (Count di Luna), Anna Pirozzi (Leonora), Conductor Gianandrea Noseda, Gregory Kunde (Manrico) and Marina Prudenskaya (Azucena).
The Covent Garden stage is dark, covered with barb wire and full of flames for director David Bösch’s new production of Verdi’s great epic Il trovatore. Back in the 19th century, when it was first staged, many critics respected the work for its composition and the musical mastery of Verdi, however, there were many reservations over the horrifying and perplexing nature of its storyline. This entails child death (similar to what’s showing down the road at the ENO's production of Jenufa), vengeful gypsy mothers, family feuds and war. Of course, the tragic opera isn't complete without lovers caught in the fire, set back by impossible circumstances. 
Lead cast with Maurizio Muraro (Ferrando), Lauren Fagan (Ines), and David Junghoon Kim (Ruiz). 
Revenge, anger, hatred and determination, to right the wrongs of the past, are the core pillars of this opera classic, which makes Il trovatore a passionate and engrossing work of art. The troubadour Manrico steals the heart of Leonora who is also loved by Manrico’s rival Count di Luna. Manrico’s mother Azucena seeks revenge on those who murdered her own mother, while Count di Luna vows to find his lost brother Garzia, believed to have been murdered by Azucena. 
View from the box.
These tormented and blood-lusting characters in Verdi's and librettist Salvardore Cammarano’s masterpiece are full of fiery emotions, and include many arias and music pieces, often, used in popular commercials, from the Anvil Chorus and Manrico’s ‘Di quella pira.’ Here it is brought together by neatly measured and impassioned conducting by Italian maestro Gianandrea Noseda, as well as sophisticated playing by the ROH orchestra - sweet and tender in Leonora and Manrico’s duet ‘Miserere’, and feverishly intense for Azucena’s 'Stride la vampa’. There's also glorious singing from the ROH chorus at the highly dramatic parts including 'Or co' dadi ma fra poco' in act three.

The glowing music and brilliant vocal talents of the production's cast is a marvel in itself.  Naples-born soprano Anna Pirozzi - certainly - brings the house down for instilling a tenacious Leonora with impressive top notes and vocal skill. Marina Prudenskaya also makes her Royal Opera House debut as the relentless Azucena. She’s the tour de force in this staging and presents a deeply tainted mother, tarnished by the child and mother she's lost. 

American tenor Gregory Kunde also charms the audience with a moving rendition of 'Di quella pira', which is a reminder of how difficult Verdi made the role of Manrico. And baritone Christopher Maltman returns to the Royal Opera House singing ‘Il balen del suo sorriso’ beautifully as the Count di Luna. 

Bösch’s red-hot production, however, is slightly troubled by its drab staging. The production is saved by Verdi’s music and a great cast of performers, yet the visual projections, coordinated by video designer Patrick Bannwart, are weak links. Animated butterflies fly on to the stage screen, during various scene changes, without any meaning, and it felt as if no visual life was offered elsewhere. Yet an army tank and a heart made out of barb wire and sticks, burning at the most crucial moment of the entire opera, are some of the production's saving graces. 

It is Verdi’s music that will make one go and see this opera, and nothing else. For any first-timer to Il trovatore, this opera is a pleasure to watch, which Covent Garden frames as a musical triumphant. My feelings for the opera are renewed - from a Verdi opera I haven't heard of before to an opera I've learnt to cherish.

There are two casts for this production, so please check the website for further details here.  
Showing until July 17th.