Saturday, June 23, 2012


Finishing up the Chez Buce presentation of Il Barbiere di Seviglia (the "broken leg" version) we got to chatting about the peculiar challenges of ensemble work.  Think about it:  Barbiere is quintessentially an ensemble work--five (you could say six) fat parts that depend from start to finish on the performers' capacity to work with each other.

Yet think on this also: it's almost impossible for a stage personality not to be a narcissist. You go into the business in the first place because you are a self-absorbed showoff.  If you are any good--especially if you are any good--you spend more and more of your time in a warm bath of cheering and applause.    Not many can keep their head in that kind of glow.

Yet the really shrewd ones are those who figure out that their success is actually greater if other people also succeed.  In this light, the best performances are those in which everybody makes everybody else look good.  I think everybody hit that standard in the broken-leg Barbiere, though perhaps not all to the same degree.  Joyce DiDonato you can forgive.  The crowd was ready to treat her as special because of the misbehaving bone, and there she was all alone out by the footlights in her wheelchair.  So, give her a bye.  But contrast Juan Diego Flórez. I'm a big Flórez fan, and I like just about everything he does. But he's never better than when he is engaging with somebody else--bantering, tearing his heart out or just indulging in a spot of innocent lust.

An even more interesting case is Francisco Furlanetto, who played Don Basilio. Per Wiki, he's 63 this year. He's always labored under the constraint (if it is a constraint) that he's a bass, and so he's limited to a comparatively small range of roles. My impression is that he spent a lot of years playing first-tier parts in second-tier houses. Again as with Flórez, I think he's great in just about anything. But I suspect maybe he isbest precisely when it is not his job to hog the spotlight; rather to play the critic or the
I assume these guys are both smart enough to know when they are well off. 

Not everybody gets, it, I gather. Apparently there is a whole Hollywood tradition about the place of the straight man in comedy and whether they get the recognition they deserve.

We followed up Barbiere with a viewing of Ralph Fiennes' Coriolanus.   Fiennes starred, of course; he also directed.  And somebody (I can only surmise it was he) understood that he'd look better with a strong, discerning, challenging cast who would be able to carry  their own parts, and also to get the best out of him.  Shrewd fellow, and I must say it paid off.

Afterthought: A while back I wrote about seeing a performance of Romeo and Juliet with real teens. It occurs to me now that you could see the same principle at work there. Some of those kids knew exactly what they were there for: they talked to each other. Some recited their lines as if they were in a vacuum, all alone on the stage. A rare kind of maturity, this interaction stuff. Some people never get it.


Anonymous said...

Ferruccio. The Met, Scala, Garnier, Salzburg (broke in with von Karajan as King Philip in 1986), and Glyndebourne aren't second-tier. He is good in everything.

Buce said...

Figured I'd hear about that one.