Il Barbiere di Siviglia

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Composer: Gioachino Rossini

Libretto: Cesare Sterbini

Based on the play by Pierre Beaumarchais (1775)

First Produced: February 1816, Teatro Argentina, Rome

Present Company: Teatro Real Madrid 2005

Director: Emilio Sagi

Sets: Llorenç Corbella

Costumes: Renata Schussheim

Lighting: Eduardo Bravo

Stereo & Surround Mixing: Andy Rose

Video Director: Ángel Luis Rámirez

Madrid Symphony Orchestra & Chorus

Conductor: Gianluigi Gelmetti



Count Almaviva: Juan Diego Flórez, tenor

Rosina: María Bayo, soprano

Figaro: Pietro Spagnoli, baritone

Bartolo: Bruno Practicò, bass

Don Basilio: Ruggero Raimondi, bass

Fiorello: Marco Mancloa, bass

Berta: Susana Cordón, soprano



Resolution: 1080i

Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1

Disc size: BD-50

Opera: 33.70 GB

Bit Rate: Moderate (21~27 Mbps)

Italian DTS-HD MA 5.0, 24 bit

Italian LPCM 2.0, 24bit

Subtitles: English, French, German & Spanish

(+ Italian on bonus features)

Opera runtime: 167 minutes

Region: All

Decca 2008



Conception & Staging: A+

Costumes: A

Casting: A

Singing: A-

Orchestra: A

Music Direction: A-

Video Direction: A-

Image: A

Audio: B

Extras Features: A

Recommendation: A



Rossini’s version of the Beaumarchais play might be thought of by modern audiences as the prequel to Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro even though the Rossini opera was written some 28 years after the Mozart. Funnily enough Beaumarchais first designed his play as a comic opera and was first performed sans arias or recitatives with incidental music by the concertmaster of the Comédie-Française, Antoine-Laurent Baudron, who also wrote the music for the second of Beaumarchais’ trilogy, The Marriage of Figaro. (His third play in the trilogy, The Guilty Mother, has also seen operatic light but nothing that has persisted over the years.) Mozart and his librettist leapt on the popular comedy not long after the ink was dry, but Rossini’s opera version of the first play took a bit longer to gestate. Mozart was 29 when he wrote his Figaro; Rossini, only 23 for Il Barbiere.



More interesting in regards the premiere of Rossini’s opera is that it jostled the supporters of Giovanni Paisiello’s opera from 1882 (thus preceding Mozart’s Figaro as well), who staged something of a subversion at the time. Paisiello’s Barber is a very good work in its own right and remained the more popular version for a number of years. It is one of the few examples of an opera that is still well regarded today where a later version (the Rossini) came to supplant it in popularity, though it is not in the current repertory.



Gioachino Rossini had the field kind of all to himself for a time, his most popular works coming between 1812-29; and until Guillaume Tell in 1829, was easily the popular opera composer in history, deservedly earning the nickname “The Italian Mozart.” Rossini just precedes the careers of Gaetano Donizetti (whose most popular works were composed between 1830-43) and Vincenzo Bellini (1830-36.) All three of whom wrote operas that continued the style of singing we can hear in Handel known as bel canto, which means “beautiful singing” and is distinguished from the more theatrical and dramatic styles that supplanted it, such as verismo (in part due to the demands presented by larger theater venues) and that has persisted to this day. Today, bel canto is something of a lost art, though there are notable practitioners, among them the Almaviva of this recording, Juan Diego Flórez.



A glance at the singing roles in Rossini’s original casting reveals an interesting  feature. Among the principals, there is only one high voice, that of Almaviva, a tenor. Rossini wrote the part of Rosina for contralto, but due to its popularity and the general paucity of adequate and popular contraltos, sopranos of one stripe or another (as is the case here) have taken on the role with success, even though it goes against the composer’s intentions. Bartolo and Don Basilio are both basses and Figaro is a baritone. Berta, the maid, is a soprano and has but one aria, though her presence is felt throughout much of the opera once the action moves inside the house. It would seem, therefore, that Rossini’s idea was to single out Almaviva, but that later practice gave more spotlight to Rosina simply by virtue of the voice.




The Rossini opera follows the plot of the original play fairly closely. Count Almaviva has followed Rosina, a woman he fell in love with at first sight, from Madrid to Seville. For her part, she has given signs of interest but as yet, the two have not had any face-to-face contact. The opera opens on the street in front of the house where Rosina now lives. Almaviva is desperate to arrange a meeting with Rosina, who can be heard from her window where she is under a form of house arrest by the ever-watchful Doctor Bartolo, who is Rosina’s guardian with ulterior motives. Enter Figaro, previously a servant to Almaviva, and now the town’s popular barber, as he recites in the famous tongue twisting Largo al factotum. Figaro devises a plan which he is forever improvising, to disguise the Count first as a soldier in need of a billet, specifically in Bartolo’s house. In the subsequent scene we are formally introduced to Rosina, Bartolo and to his friend and mentor, the sinister,  yet blustering Don Basilio. Almaviva tries the soldier deception but has better success in the second act with that of music teacher. Bartolo tries various “precautions” to keep other suitors at bay, but love triumphs in the end.




This Spanish production from 2005 melds the old with the new in surprising ways, especially in respect to the basics of staging and color. The sets are devised on stage by the townspeople and other functionaries. They are huge, elegant, and convincing. There is a certain bubbling excitement to the proceedings that energizes the story. At first there is a bare, dark stage, save only a strong light at the back representing the moon. As the town square is built before our eyes throughout the Overture, the moonlight becomes brighter and reveals and an essentially monochromatic color scheme, with the townspeople wearing different patterns of blacks and whites, while the Count wears the same with subtle touches of blue, like a masked ball without the masks. The entire opera until the storm scene late in the second act, which is shown behind a scrim, retains this black and white color scheme, only to be replaced by a burst of color in the finale when the lovers are reconciled and the betrothal is announced.




The singing is of a very high standard, with Juan Diego Flórez’ Almaviva pitch-perfect toned tenor , the clear standout, along with María Bayo’s slender, sweet-toned Rosina. Pietro Spagnoli’s Figaro wants a little more resonance and incisiveness, though he is certainly nimble enough, but his characterization and charisma sweeps us away in any case. The venerable Ruggero Raimondi is appropriately blustery as Don Basilio, and Bruno Practicò makes for a perfectly comic, though not to the point of buffa, Basilio. The man is no idiot, only a fool. The first lines of the opera are sung by Fiorello, the Count’s servant, here bass Marco Mancloa is so solid that for a moment we like him for Figaro. Berta is made up as a chain-smoking hag (missing tooth and all) but her singing by Susana Cordón borders on angelic – it’s a little disconcerting at first.



The acting, too, feels just right, with everyone in accord with the ensemble nature of the piece. There are no bows, literally or figuratively, after the applause that follows the important arias. Nor are there false notes of any kind, no one is too comic, too stupid or too amorous. Bayo, who was 42 at the time and twelve years Flórez’ senior, is as sexy and vivacious as she is sweet; only the close-ups reveal the age difference as well as a tendency to exaggerate facial expression, which goes down better with the audience than the camera.



Under the baton of Gianluigi Gelmetti, the Madrid Symphony Orchestra plays like they know this score like they know scales, yet it always sounds fresh. Once or twice I questioned Gelmetti’s tempo changes, but by and large his pacing and tempi suit the music and overall arc of each act. One interesting difference from the original is the adding of part of an aria from Rossini’s La Cenerentola for Alamaviva near the conclusion of the opera. I was reminded of a similar, much more extended, practice in the second act of Der Fledermaus. It works here as well. Maybe better.         


The video direction has only one weak moment: the finale to the first act when the soldiers appear under the floor as it rises is not as clearly organized as it could be, making it hard to tell who is coming or going or why.




Highest possible marks here for the opera itself. The interlaced 1080 image is perfectly realized. Contrast was perfectly maintained, with superb blacks and whites – which is a particularly good thing here because the color scheme is largely monochromatic except for faces and hands. Artifacting did not rear its ugly head, nor was there any noise or DNR. A video presentation of demonstration quality. Movement is no problem with proper video processing to migrate to 1080p.




Audio on Blu-ray opera is generally recorded at 48k Hz, 16-bit. And I thought I could make out some additional texture and perhaps dynamic scale. Despite this, I dropped the grade a point because the Stereo mix gets congested and a trifle gnarly in the tuttis, and the Surround mix places various instruments to the sides, a practice I personally abhor, though many people seem to revel in it. The surround does offer a more relaxed expansive, more stagelike sound, but the stereo was more dynamically nuanced.



Extras & Recommendation:

In addition to Decca’s 32-page Booklet in the usual 3 languages (English, French & German) that includes a detailed synopsis and a brief essay by the director, Emilio Sagi, there are two fine bonus features presented more or less in HD: The Useless Precaution (the subtitle for the opera), a 58-minute film by the redoubtable Reiner Moritz, wherein the cast, conductor and director introduce their characters and the opera and place it in historical context. Another excellent piece by Mr. Moritz, and a good primer on early 19th century opera. A separate 16-minute piece looks backstage at the Teatro Real production.



The Useless Precaution interspersed clips from the opera in HD while the talking heads were evidently filmed in a lower resolution and upscaled for the disc. The menu allows for direct access to specific areas of interest, or a Play All simply by clicking on the first segment. I read on of a user complaining about reverberance and boom that, together with “heavy accents” by those that chose to speak in English and the corresponding absence of English subtitles for those speakers, made for difficult comprehension. My experience was totally different. I noticed no disturbing bloom to the voices, and I’m usually quite sensitive to that sort of thing, which leads me to conclude that this user has a decidedly reverberant playback system, lacking in appropriate dynamic nuance, which is always my experience when I audition home theatre in stores.




An inventive and engaging staging of Rossini’s popular opera, well cast and generally very well sung and acted. The lovely bel canto of Peruvian tenor Juan Diego Flórez, and the appealing soprano of María Bayo are reasons enough to own the disc. Image quality is top drawer and, while I found the surround mix a little too surrounding, it was satisfactory. Excellent bonus items round off this excellent early entry into the Blu-ray opera catalogue. Warmly recommended.

Leonard Norwitz

© LensViews

March 17, 2014

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