Il barbiere di Siviglia, Royal Opera

There’s not much subtlety but plenty of mayhem and mischief, and this third
revival, which brings together familiar faces and new voices, raised many a
guffaw — and, for once, the laughter was prompted as much by the shenanigans
on stage as by the surtitles aloft.

Making his Royal Opera debut as Count Almaviva, the Italian-American tenor
Michele Angelini took time to settle. He seemed a little nervous and tense in
‘Ecco ridente’; the phrasing lacked elegance and there was some gruffness
and untidiness. Similarly, ‘Se il mio nome saper voi bramate’ sounded
strained at times. Certainly, Angelini has vocal agility — and physical
nimbleness too, springing spryly into the branches of the baobab three beneath
his beloved’s balcony. In the cascades each individual pitch was clearly
defined, but there was some unnecessary ornamentation which could not
compensate for a lack of creamy evenness and brightness. Indeed, Angelini
over-complicated his Act 2 ‘Cessa di piu resistere’ too, tiring himself out
in the process. But, he seemed more at ease in his Act 2 personae and enjoyed
some effective comic romping as the billeted squaddie and fawning music master,
wheedling himself deftly into his inamorata’s domain.

American baritone Lucas Meachem was more at home as the eponymous coiffeur,
even though this was a Royal Opera role debut, and offered a master-class in
comic singing and acting. Meachem has a huge voice but knows when to turn on
the power and when to hold back, blending easily in the ensembles. Bellowing
his arrival from the rear of the auditorium, Meachem then startled the amused
audience, stopping to admire a hairdo or two as he strolled nonchalantly down
the aisle. In a carefully paced ‘Largo al factotum’ every word of pithy
patter rang clearly, delivered to the far nooks of the auditorium as Meachem
seemed to make eye-contact will all. Throughout, this barber was irrepressible
and engaging; the moments of exasperation and frustration were entirely natural
and convincing. And, in ‘Dunque io son’ Meachem and his Rosina, Serena
Malfi, relished the comic fun, Figaro ruefully recognising his equal in
guilefulness as Rosina shrewdly whipped the pre-composed letter for
‘Lindoro’ from her bodice.

Malfi’s Rosina gave much pleasure. The Italian has a rich, warm mezzo,
with a dash of velvety darkness. The coloratura demands were effortlessly
dispensed, Malfi’s technical assurance allowing her to focus on communicating
the drama. In ‘Una voce poco fa’ the petulance (stamping, pouting and
dart-throwing!) were well-judged, and there was a feisty control about this
Rosina that left no doubt that she was more than a match for her hapless
guardian, Bartolo. Ebullient of character, voluminous of tone, Malfi sparkled
in her house debut.

As her crafty custodian, Alessandro Corbelli returned to the role he sang in
the 2009 revival and demonstrated that he has lost none of his buffo
nous. In ‘A un dottor delta mia sorte’ Corbelli winningly delivered the
musical and dramatic tricks; a perfect portrait of preening presumption, this
Bartolo’s comeuppance was richly enjoyed.

The sinister edge in Maurizio Muraro’s full bass added vocal interest to
Basilio’s ‘La calumnia’, complementing the predatory rage, while Welsh
baritone Wyn Pencarreg (another ROH debut) was strong as Fiorello, quickly
pinning the characterisation and singing cleanly and mellifluously.

This production indulges in hyperbole, and I found the shrieks and sneezes
of Ambrogio (Jonathan Coad) and Berta (Janis Kelly) a bit tiresome; but Kelly
charmingly revealed the secret yearnings beneath the housekeeper’s apparent
disapproval of the amorous goings-on, in a sweet-toned ‘Il vecchiotto cerca
moglie’. Promoted, like Coad, from the ranks of the ROH chorus, Donaldson
Bell and Andrew Macnair acquitted themselves very well as the Officer and
Notary respectively.

Having conducted the original run in 2005, Mark Elder returns to the pit,
leading the ROH orchestra in a detailed, nuanced performance. The overture’s
Andante maestoso was stately, perhaps a touch on the slow side, but
the textures were clear and there was some lovely playing, and an expertly
controlled trill, from the horn. Things picked up niftily, though, at the
Allegro vivace and the final Pi˘ mosso was not so much a
Rossinian acceleration as a Mo Farah-style final-lap kick, a ferocious
injection of pace that initially left a few instrumentalists trailing behind.

I’ve seen this production twice before, and on each occasion the Act 1
finale has come adrift with the ensemble between the stage and pit as wobbly as
the Keystone-Cop capers on the tilting stage, as the PVC-caped coppers sway and
swoon. Elder took things steady — which made the anarchy on stage even more
surreal than Leiser and Caurier perhaps intended — but singers and players
still parted company. Overall, though, Elder achieved clarity and nuance; the
woodwind solos were drawn to the fore and complemented by stylish string
playing, with controlled dynamic grading.

All in all, a surprisingly fresh and engaging revival.

Claire Seymour

Cast and production information:

Count Almaviva, Michele Angelini; Figaro, Lucas Meachem; Rosina,
Serena Malfi; Doctor Bartolo, Alessandro Corbelli; Don Basilio, Maurizio
Muraro; Fiorello, Wyn Pencarreg; Berta, Janis Kelly; Ambrogio, Jonathan Coad;
Officer, Donaldson Bell; Notary, Andrew Macnair; Directors, Patrice Caurier and
Moshe Leiser; Revival Director, Thomas Guthrie; Conductor, Mark Elder;
Designer, Christian Fenouillat; Costume Designer, Agostino Cavalca; Lighting
Designer, Christophe Forey; Orchestra and Chorus of the Royal Opera House. Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London,
Friday, 19th September 2014.

image_description=Michele Angelini as Count Almaviva and Serena Malfi as Rosina © ROH [Photo by Tristram Kenton]
product_title=Il barbiere di Siviglia, Royal Opera
product_by=A review by Claire Seymour
product_id=Above: Michele Angelini as Count Almaviva and Serena Malfi as Rosina © ROH [Photo by Tristram Kenton]