Il barbiere di Siviglia (Glyndebourne)
Annabel Arden's new production of Rossini's comic opera is a summer treat
Rossini's opera buffa is only ever as good as its Barber, and Björn Bürger has the Glyndebourne crowd lotus-eating out of his hand. The handsome young baritone exudes elegant bonhomie and fourth-wall-breaking razzle-dazzle, and he delivers Rossini's tongue-twisters with an eloquence it would be hard to better. Bravo, Señor Barbiere.
Bravo, too, to Taylor Stayton as Count Almaviva. Last seen dying a messy death as Arturo in Katie Mitchell's Lucia di Lammermoor at the ROH, the gifted American tenor is alive and well and full of charm in his pursuit of Rosina: a safer choice of bride this time, but one who languishes tantalisingly out of reach as the ward of the scheming Dr Bartolo.
The Bürger-Stayton double act is the answer to all your summertime needs. Sophisticated and funny, they're the ideal complement to a festive sunshine picnic and they keep Rossini's first act bubbling away with their infectious brand of Commedia delight.
'Vivacious charm and comic sensibility'
Nor does it hurt to have Enrique Mazzola at the helm of a trippingly light London Philharmonic Orchestra. This masterly conductor is a Glyndebourne favourite with good reason: he ‘gets' Rossini and has a keen ear for tempo and idiom. To be frank, The Barber of Seville can be a bore in the wrong hands, but here it was joy unalloyed—at least for the first act.
Annabel Arden's production, marred by an unchanging backdrop of baffling ugliness by designer Joanna Parker, keeps things so simple that they sometimes get complicated. (What's so difficult about staging a first floor window, for heaven's sake?) Within this unpromising environment, though, the director manages some splendid episodes of hilarity. Some of them border on the absurd, but in a good way. I shan't quickly forget the moment Christophoros Stamboglis's imposing Basilio sent smoke billowing from his cassock. Only after the interval, when Rosina's singing lesson descends into self-indulgence, does Arden's sound judgement forsake her.
Still, that experienced old cove Alessandro Corbelli is on hand as a marvellously put-upon Bartolo, his sight gags a constant pleasure, and the timeless Janis Kelly steals the audience's hearts clean away during Berta the maid's second-act aria.
As for Danielle de Niese, the radiantly beautiful soprano's vivacious charm and comic sensibility are a dazzling match for her versatile voice. She sings Rosina with the kind of knowing winsomeness that Rena Harms brought to ENO's Madam Butterfly a week earlier. Except here the context is more appropriate.
The evening's only puzzle is the interpolation of an additional Rossini aria for Glyndebourne's star diva, for it does not suit de Niese's voice in the slightest and her tone wavered with what sounded like a touch of fatigue. But that's just a small nick in an otherwise razor-sharp, baby-smooth show.
Il barbiere di Siviglia (The Barber of Seville) continues in repertory at Glyndebourne until 17 July.