Emilio Sagi’s 2005 production of Il Barbiere di Siviglia is incredibly elegant and restrained. It looks like something by Robert Carsen. The sets are all constructed and transformed in full view and just about everything is black and white until the final scene. There is a lot of background action and commentary from a talented group of dancers who give a very Spanish feel to the piece. The final scene bursts into vivid, even loud, colour and the finale is just gorgeous to look at. The direction of the actors is well thought out too though they do seem to sing from on top of furniture a lot of the time.
Musically it’s a very good performance. Conductor Gianluigi Gelmetti has gone back to Rossini’s original scoring and markings and cut away what he sees as “melodramatic” late 19th century changes. Oddly, despite this search for purity, he includes Ah, se è ver che in tal momento. Certainly he gets a very crisp, transparent sound from the Orquesta Sinfónica de Madrid. The singing is exemplary. All the cast are obviously comfortable with this kind of mateial. The standout is Juan Diego Flórez as Almaviva but there are very good performances too from Pietro Spagnoli as Figaro, María Bayo as Rosina, Bruno Praticò as Bartolo and, unsurprisingly, Ruggero Raimondi as Basilio. Susana Cordón also does very well with the smaller role of Berta. The ensemble work is very crisp and the chorus is also first class.
The weakness perhaps is the acting. Only Raimondi seems to be a natural comedian. Juan Diego Flórez is not bad, indeed in, for example, the Lindoro scene, he’s rather good but a comparison of this with his Tonio or Comte Ory really shows how much he needs a talented comic female lead to spark off. Unfortunately he doesn’t have one here. Nicely as María Bayo sings she just doesn’t have the slyness that Rosina needs. We see it in Una voce poco fa where we hear the words but she doesn’t show the qualities she describes. It doesn’t help that Pietro Spagnoli is a slightly anonymous Figaro too.
The video direction by Ángel Luis Ramírez is really excellent. He gives us a very good overall look at the production and he’s also prepared to use an unusual angle when it makes sense e.g. when showing conductor Gelmetti playing the guitar for Almaviva’s serenade. He’s backed up with a 16:9 picture that’s as good as it gets on DVD. The DTS 5.1 sound track is very good indeed with transparency, clear spatial depth and more than usual, but effective, use of the side speakers. Maybe that’s a function of the Teatro Real acoustic. This was also released on Blu-ray which may well be even better. My only beef is taht there is a lot of applause after almost every number. There are English, French, German, Spanish and Chinese subtitles.
There is a whole bonus disc of extras including a photo gallery and a backstage feature but the gem is an hour of interviews with the cast, conductor and director which are very illuminating. Trilingual documentation includes a synopsis, track listing and a couple of short essays.
There’s a great deal to look in this production and performance but ultimately it doesn’t fizz the way it should. My first choice remains the hilarious Amsterdam performance directed by Dario Fo though that’s showing its age technically.