Thursday, July 05, 2007

And Speaking of Haircuts...

Has there ever been a more unreservedly joyous piece of music than Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia—written, be it noted, when the composer was 24. Here at Il Teatro Buce, we have been idly considering that question over the past few days through an off-again on again-performance on the big screen (that would be the one over the living room fireplace).

We can’t think of one. Yet we have to admit: our performance of choice is one of the oddest we’ve ever seen. When you think of Il barbiere, you think of, well, of “Il Barbiere”—Figaro himself, who gets to sing perhaps the all-time greatest patter song, “Largo al factotum” (“Figaro qua! Figaro là!”— e così fa). Or of Rosina, who gets to sing one of the all time great songs of longing, “Una voce poco fa.” Or you think of Tito Gobbi (as Figaro) and Maria Callas (as Rosina) hamming it up almost as much as they do as Scarpia and Tosca (link—and damn, all the YouTube clips have been removed).

What you don’t think of ordinarily is Count Almaviva, but that exactly what has been on our mind lately, and for one good reason: Juan Diego Florez, in this extraordinary production from Madrid in 2005 (link). My first attempt at an overall assessment was that he’s in a different opera, while all the other characters go on as if he wasn’t there. But no, Mrs. Buce explains: he is there, he just reinvents the role and gives it possibilities and dimensions you never expected before.

Well, he does that, anyway. Indeed, the way he runs away with the show, you can thank the rest of the cast for just showing up, but in fact, they do an heroic job of trying to make it a three-dimensional performance. In the end, they are mostly better as actors than as singers: Maria Bayo has more assertiveness and individuality than a lot of Rosinas who can sing better. Pietro Spagnoli as Figaro can dance and frolic even if you can’t remember quite what it was that he sang. Bruno Pratico as Dr. Bartolo seems almost intentionally to function better as a comic than as an actor. The only one who comes close to Florez’ heft is Ruggero Raimondi as Don Basilio, all spooked up like Dracula in a Mel Brooks movie. But he is so successful that he almost throws his scenes off balance.

But it is not just the actors/singers. The staging is witty. The direction is all of a piece. And the score, my God the score. Has there ever been a piece of music so unreservedly joyous?

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