In Review > International

Il Barbiere di Siviglia

PARIS
Théâtre des Champs-Elysées
12/5/17

In Review Paris Barbiere hdl 318
Barbiere in Paris, with Peter Kálmán, Catherine Trottmann, Robert Gleadow, Florian Sempey, Annunziata Vestri and Michele Angelini
© Vincent Pontet

AFTER PUCCINI'S Bohème had been cut adrift in outerspace at the Paris Opéra, it was something of a relief to find Rossini’s Barbiere di Siviglia set on some inoffensive scrolls of manuscript in Laurent Pelly’s new production for the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées. Jérémie Rhorer conducted the period instruments of Le Cercle de l’Harmonie for the staging, which opened on December 5.

This no-frills Barbiere didn’t sparkle. In the past, Pelly has demonstrated more comic inspiration; for this staging, the characters were dressed in black, and the production allowed for little extraneous comic business. A few touches of choreographed rhythmic movements aside, there remained only Pelly’s fine direction of the singers to sustain the drama. The curvy manuscript setting began to pall after Act I, and flying in Figaro as a deus ex machina device to shave Bartolo did not raise much mirth. Pelly obviously was determined not to stage Barbiere as a knockabout farce; instead, he presented the characters and the youthful Unikanti Chorus with serious dramatic truth. The purpose was admirable, but some old-fashioned fun was badly needed.

Florian Sempey’s Figaro confirmed that he is one of the finest French baritones of the moment; he has a resonant, relatively agile voice, coupled with a curmudgeonly stage presence. Sempey presented a Figaro that owed more to Sweeney Todd than to the traditional light-hearted rogue. The other outstanding vocal performance of the evening came from American tenor Michele Angelini, whose light Rossini tenor was deployed in a performance of neatly phrased brilliance that stole the show. Angelini’s virtuoso singing of Count Almaviva’s often-cut “Cessa di più resistere” brought the longest ovation of the year from the capacity audience. 

The loose-limbed modern-girl Rosina of Catherine Trottmann had some fine moments, particularly in her music lesson, but despite a powerful, well-placed upper register, Trottmann’s nut-brown mezzo lacks power in the lower register, which compromised her Act I aria. Mezzo-soprano Annunziata Vestri, the Berta, was the only member of the cast to bring a touch of genuinely communicative Italian diction to the show, which made up for her recalcitrant voice. The immense bass-baritone Peter Kálmán, as Bartolo, hardly looked vulnerable enough for the pathos of Pelly’s finale, but he sang with restraint and resilience to Rhorer’s breakneck tempo for his patter aria. Bass Robert Gleadow brought power to Basilio and over-the-top cynicism in his tale of calumny, but he needs to beware of a widening vibrato. 

It was interesting to hear Rhorer and his period band attack Rossini. Any expectations of a light, transparent approach to the score were confounded by an overture that refused to take flight on the first night. Despite the interesting effect that period instruments brought to the balance of brass and woodwind, the result was heavy, and the paucity of string tone was disappointing. Fortunately both band and conductor improved as the evening progressed, but tempos remained erratic. One hopes wit will replace speed as the run of performances progresses. —Stephen J. Mudge 



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