On 2 August 2022 I was at the opening night of Rossini's Il barbiere di Siviglia, the last title of Teatro dell'Opera di Roma's summer season at the Terme di Caracalla (Baths of Caracalla) in Rome. Il barbiere di Siviglia is a 'Roman' opera, as it had its world premiere on 20 January 1816, so a little more than two hundred years ago, at the Teatro Argentina, where, due to a poor staging and an anti-Rossini claque, it was a resounding fiasco. Nonetheless, the young composer knew that he had written a masterpiece (which would have earned him great copyrights throughout his life, even in the decades in which Verdi's melodrama had displaced Rossini's repertoire from the billboards). It should be noted that in Rome and its surroundings is not only staged the production of The Barber signed by the Teatro dell'Opera but also others, staged in various spaces by small companies to cheer up the summer evenings. It is also useful to remember that, a few years ago, Teatro dell'Opera di Roma co-produced with Teatro Massimo di Palermo a project called 'opera camion' which brought Il barbiere to the suburbs. Not a few of those who then enjoyed a super cheap Barber queued up to get inexpensive seats at the Baths of Caracalla.
The production at the Baths of Caracalla - an audience of 2,400 seats in the stalls - was conceived for the summer of 2014, when it was presented on only a couple of evenings due to union tensions and strikes. It was revived in 2016. The 'word of mouth' of those who saw it, meant that on 2 August - the first performance - the vast stalls area was overflowing. And so was the gallery (1,200 seats): it seems that even the repeat performances (until 6 August 2022) are almost sold out.
Il barbiere di Siviglia at the Baths of Caracalla is set in the Hollywood of the 1920s when historical blockbusters were shot, comic films were based on gags and cakes in the face and the movie industry was going towards the 'talkies'. In this context, Almaviva is a rich and powerful movie producer. It is above all a caricature of George M Cohan, a great author of musical comedies between 1904 and 1942. He is also known for a patriotic song - Over There - the most loved and the most sung by American troops in the First and Second World Wars and in the Korean War. In this edition, Almaviva is not the usual handsome young great seducer; he is undoubtedly attractive, not for his physique but rather for the wallet, for the bank accounts and to be able to finance blockbusters like the one of which we see a large excerpt, while in the pit Stefano Montanari conducts the well-known symphony.
The story, therefore, is set in a context of dancers and mimes in the roaring years. It works perfectly, without changing a comma in the libretto or the scene notes by Cesare Sterbini (the author of the text) and Rossini - a demonstration of the vitality of Il barbiere di Siviglia. The stage director is the Italian-American Lorenzo Mariani (the long-serving artistic director of Teatro Massimo di Palermo), the scenes are by William Orlandi and the beautiful costumes by Silvia Aymonino.
The musical part is brilliant, although outdoors it is impossible to have the same sounds as in a closed environment. Stefano Montanari, heard several times in various editions of Il barbiere di Siviglia, conducts with skill (and rhythm). In this production, it is essential that the orchestra is in tune with the singers, who must be not only exquisite actors (as is almost always the case in good productions) but also skilled dancers - certainly not an easy task.
Two of the protagonists - Markus Werba as Figaro and Alex Esposito as Don Basilio - are well known to the Roman audience; Werba is known as a class dancer too for his interpretations of Die lustige Witwe (The Merry Widow) also but not only in Rome. Marco Filippo Romano is a Bartolo fresh from recent successes at La Scala.
Almaviva is the American tenor René Barbera, a star of Rossini and Donizetti roles overseas. Seen and heard in Italy at the Rossini Opera Festival, he has the perfect register for the role, a very elegant ring and he acts with wit. He did not sing the difficult aria of the second finale: 'Cessa di più resistere'; I think it was a decision of the stage director not to make the ending too long, not of the singer perfectly able to do justice to the vocal acrobatics required by the aria.
Francesca Benitez is a delightful Berta in her 'sorbet air', but for me the real discovery of the evening is Cecilia Molinari's Rosina. She has the perfect Rossinian vocal requirements: a burnished mezzo-soprano who can descend to the alto register. Excellent phrasing, great precision in agility and remarkable musical taste are just some of the characteristics that make her an appreciated and esteemed Rossini interpreter of the new generation. She recites and dances very well too.
A great success.
Copyright © 5 August 2022