Maria Ewing has always been a bit of an enigma to me. It’s the range of roles I’ve heard her in; Salome, Dido, Carmen, Rosina. Soprano to mezzo and bel canto to dramatic. In the recording under consideration here she sings Rosina in Rossini’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia. It was recorded at Glyndebourne in 1982 when she was 32. Her performance is typical Ewing. She acts really well, looks great (if her unusual looks work for you – they do for me!) and sings really well without ever really sounding beautiful and occasionally giving one the feeling one gets watching somebody corner a little too fast on a large motorbike. I find watching her fascinating.
The production is as traditional as one could get and makes the small, old Glyndebourne stage look even smaller. Costumes too are absolutely generic 19th century comic opera. Blocking is basic. Mostly it’s very straightforward “park and bark”. All in all it’s the sort of thing you simply wouldn’t see in a modern opera house (except maybe the Met) and I’m sure it would please the investment banker’s wife in the Salzburg King Arthur. The singing and acting, Ewing aside, backs the production up.
John Rawnsley is a very broad Figaro with winks and big gestures and little mincing footsteps. He sings very well indeed but he has a voice that seems two sizes too loud for the production and tends to dominate ensembles. Max-René Cosotti is the Count. He has an old fashioned Italian tenor voice that works really well in this context. The rest of the cast is perfectly OK too and there’s a bit of a bonus in that Basilio is sung by a 33 year old newcomer called Ferrucio Furlanetto. We are a million miles away from Phillip II here! The London Philharmonic are in the pit under Sylvain Cambreling. They are balanced well back from the voices but seem OK to me. All in all, this is musically quite fine, if rather old fashioned, but dramatically it’s rather like watching superior panto for adults.
Technically this disc is about what one might expect. It’s taken from an ITV broadcast and is very much video directed for small screen. The picture is barely DVD quality 4:3 and the sound is Dolby 2.0. It isn’t particularly good either being slightly muffled and with quite unrealistic balance. Subtitles are available in English, French, German and Spanish. There are no extras and minimal documentation. All in all I think one has to treat this like a dodgy mono sound recording from the 1950s. It’s worth having if one wants a record of these singers but otherwise one is better off looking for something more recent. Certainly Dario Fo’s Amsterdam production is much more fun to watch.