Una voce poco fa: Barbiere at the Royal Opera House

Rossini – Il Barbiere di Siviglia

Rosina – Serena Malfi

Almaviva – Michele Angelini

Figaro – Lucas Meachem

Bartolo – Alessandro Corbelli

Basilio – Maurizio Muraro

Berta – Janis Kelly

Fiorello – Wyn Pencarreg

Royal Opera Chorus, Orchestra of the Royal Opera House / Mark Elder.

Stage directors – Moshe Leiser & Patrice Caurier.

Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London.  Monday, September 22nd, 2014.

Barbiere is one of those evenings that when done well, can be one of the most enjoyable evenings in the theatre.  It can also be one of the most tedious.  The good news is that this latest Royal Opera revival of Moshe Leiser and Patrice Caurier’s production is a prime example of judicious, well-matched casting and singing that is truly bel canto.

The staging itself is a known quantity.  Bold and colourful it is an appropriate framework for singers to produce magic within.  It is hardly revolutionary and the moving stage at the close of Act 1 is really quite noisy, but it’s one of those productions that is easily reviviable and does exactly what it needs to do.  Mark Elder’s conducting was also congenial and relaxed.  I found it perfectly fine but lacking in vigour and excitement.  He was wonderfully supportive to his singers and gave them the space they needed.  To my taste, I would have preferred the strings senza vibrato (although there were a few passages where they were) and using shorter bow strokes and stronger attack.  The intonation of the Royal Opera orchestra strings tonight could charitably be described as approximate and they were times where they were less than unanimous.  It certainly didn’t distract too much from the vocal performances thankfully.

And we really were treated to some wonderful singing tonight.  Alessandro Corbelli’s grainy baritone, delicious comic timing and diction so good that you could write dictation from it were a real pleasure as Bartolo.  Maurizio Muraro gave us a large and generous bass that was also agile and subtle.  Janis Kelly made much of Berta’s aria with tone that is still solid and she was a radiant presence in the ensembles.

Then we had Serena Malfi who gave us a Rosina of velvety fruitiness with a timbre that reminded me at times of Teresa Berganza.  She really is her own artist though with effortless coloratura, a ringing top and vivacious stage presence.  Lucas Meachem offered us a big-voiced Figaro with ringing, warm tone and a convivial manner.  The voice itself sounds like one that has the potential to grow further – it’s a muscular, virile sound yet he was still able to turn the corners nicely.

Then there was Michele Angelini’s Almaviva.  He blew me away tonight.  He doesn’t have the laser cutting power of some tenors but rather he has a honeyed warmth to his tone that is absolutely beguiling and immensely satisfying to listen to.  His facility with coloratura is staggering and like the very best singers he has the unteachable ability to turn runs into living, musical forms.  Combined with an easy trill, an elegance of line and total flexibility throughout the range he is a remarkable artist and one I very much hope to hear more of.

This was one of those very special evenings where one goes to the theatre expecting a straightforward performance of an enjoyable classic and emerges three and a half hours later in awe of fabulous singing that encapsulates the very heights of bel canto achievement.  It was a very special evening indeed.

Michele Angelini as Count Almaviva and Serena Malfi as Rosina in Il barbiere di Siviglia © ROH. Photo by Tristram Kenton


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