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OPERA

Review: Famous barber's opera hampered by mediocre vocals

Italian operatic life during the first half of the 19th century was dominated by one man - Gioachino Rossini. Between 1809 and 1829 he composed nearly 40 operas, and although only 14 of them are Opera-Buffa, he is now firmly recognised as a master of the comic opera.
His masterpiece opera in two acts Il Barbiere di Siviglia, based on the famous Beaumarchais's trilogy of Figaro comedies (the first episode), was performed at the Slovak National Theatre on January 15, some 185 years after its premiere on February 20, 1816.

Il Barbiere di Siviglia

- Gioachino Rossini
Where:
Slovenské národné divadlo (Slovak National Theatre)
When: Dates pending in March
Rating: 4 out of 10

Italian operatic life during the first half of the 19th century was dominated by one man - Gioachino Rossini. Between 1809 and 1829 he composed nearly 40 operas, and although only 14 of them are Opera-Buffa, he is now firmly recognised as a master of the comic opera.

His masterpiece opera in two acts Il Barbiere di Siviglia, based on the famous Beaumarchais's trilogy of Figaro comedies (the first episode), was performed at the Slovak National Theatre on January 15, some 185 years after its premiere on February 20, 1816. Operatic folklore has it that the piece was composed in just a fortnight, a feat of which Rossini was certainly capable.

"Give me a shopping list and I'll set it to music," he once said. Indeed, one certainly gets the feeling that he might have given it a try when listening to the array of lighthearted arias. A beautiful example is a playful and charming aria in scene I when Figaro describes to Count Almaviva where his shop is situated.

Rossini is famous for his fondness of coloraturas and embellishments and uses them for all roles and all types of voices. While mainly performed by Sopranos, he employs coloraturas regardless of whether the singer is a Soprano or Bass, a tendency which has caused strong headaches for his operas' performers.

Combine that fact with the quick, driving tempo of the piece, and the performance must have been a challenge for all the musicians. Conductor Rastislav Štúr thankfully did not pull back a millisecond in tempo, although there were intense attempts by many performers to do so.

There are no big surprises in the production of the opera, a very traditional composition by V. Věžník which relies heavily on the dramatic skills of the main protagonists. The characters are designed to be amusing and are based on the basic Buffo characters: mean old Dottore Bartolo (Ladislav Neshyba), the cheeky and attractive young Rosina (Jolana Fogašová), the barber Figaro (Martin Babjak), the intriguing old singing teacher Don Basilio (Martin Malachovský), the count in incognito Almaviva (Otokar Klein) and few minor roles.

The clichéd characters do not always work, and there were few very amusing moments. One highlight was Babjak, who clearly enjoyed himself in the role of Figaro the barber and thus passed the same feeling to the audience.

Neshyba as the doctor Bartolo also provided some laughs, especially in Act II when imitating the moaning of Rosina and count Almaviva disguised as the old music teacher during his welcoming aria. He also gave an impressive acrobatic performance by hanging on the candelabrum, an act rewarded by immediate applause. The pity is only that his singing is more enjoyable when he is making fun and imitating Soprano and Tenor than when he uses his true Bass voice.

Unintentionally, there was one moment from the production that will be remembered: when the servant blew out the eight-branched candelabrum on the right side, the stagehands accidentally switched off the candelabrum on the left.

One interesting and very functional prop was the curtain, which was cut into three pieces. The design allowed sections of the stage to be concealed while others were exposed, therby allowing the stagehands to re-arrange scenes without interrupting the action or disturbing the audience.

The world of Il Barbiere doesn't have the ambiguities and depth of La Nozze (The Marriage of Figaro by Mozart), but as a straightforward, life-affirming comic opera it has no equal. Each of its arias is a highlight, and some of them are truly astonishing - Figaro's Largo al factotum (an introduction aria, "Figaro, Figaro, bravo bravissimo...") is one of opera's bravura set-pieces for high Baritones (and Babjak was up to the challenge). And Almaviva's Ecco ridente is one of the most beautiful pieces Rossini ever wrote.

Although Il Barbiere is an opera with only two roles for women, Rosina was always welcomed on stage and her Una voce poco fa is still considered an operatic tour de force for soprano or mezzo-soprano.

While viewers are not able to select performances at the SND according to alternations in roles (a habit which will hopefully soon come to the beautiful theatre), Rossini's genius for entertaining, charming and relaxing tunefullness always guarantees a stunning evening.

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