ROSSINI Il barbiere di Siviglia (Oren)
The great Italian baritone Leo Nucci is one of music’s indestructibles. How else can one explain a 76-year-old holding spellbound the vast audience in the Verona Arena with a rendering of Figaro’s entrance aria of rare skill and vocal relish? Nor does it end there. With cries of ‘Bis!’ ringing round the arena, Nucci repeats the cavatina with, if anything, even more relish and élan.
Musical pantomime? Possibly. But there’s a sense in which Il barbiere is pantomime, or a commedia dell’arte version of it. It is this tradition from which director Hugo de Ana takes his cue. Naysayers will find his production ‘traditional’ to the point of being museum-ready. Others will value its uncomplicated honesty and good humour. It’s certainly far closer to Rossini than the kind of witless reinvention we’re obliged to suffer in, say, Annabel Arden’s recent Glyndebourne production (Opus Arte, 8/17).
The Verona Arena might seem an odd place to stage Il barbiere. It would certainly have surprised Rossini, who conducted there, at Metternich’s invitation, during the 1822 Congress of Verona. But that was before the age of television. I imagine the 2018 Verona audience enjoyed its evening under the Italian night sky, even though de Ana’s staging, superbly directed for the cameras by Myriam Hoyer, was primarily designed for home viewing by the larger audience beyond.
In case you are wondering, there is no hint of Nucci running out of steam as the evening unfolds. He plays the entire role with nice timing, along with a veteran’s sense of those notes you need to sing and those you can finesse yet still give a characterful impression of the role. The fact that he moves more like the elderly Dr Bartolo than Rossini’s restlessly peripatetic barber is neither here nor there, particularly when the actual Dr Bartolo, the predictably excellent Carlo Lepore, is playing hand-in-glove with Nucci.
The other veteran performer is the 70-year-old Ferruccio Furlanetto. He delivers the goods as a splendidly saturnine Don Basilio: the Calumny aria firmly down in C, as was common practice in the Chaliapin era and after.
Away from this vocal gerontocracy, Dmitry Korchak confirms his position as one the best of today’s Almavivas, while Nino Machaidze is a pleasingly agreeable (and, where necessary, pleasingly disagreeable) Rosina. Indeed, it’s luxury casting throughout: witness the casting of Manuela Custer as Dr Bartolo’s housekeeper Berta. It’s not often that her Act 2 aria di sorbetto proves to be a showstopper. Conductor Daniel Oren, an old Verona hand, directs with pace and purpose, while allowing the score to dance and sing in a way that’s rarely heard nowadays.
As a one-off live event, this is not going to dethrone Jean-Pierre Ponnelle’s superb 1971-72 studio-made film of his own celebrated Milan staging (DG, 3/02, 8/05). That is hors concours, and promises to remain so. But Nucci’s Figaro is something for the archives, too.