Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Faire la noce Rossini

The day after Sam Shirakawa saw a revival of the Bartered Bride at the Komische Oper Berlin, he picked up a performance of Rossini's Il Barbiere di Siviglia:

Rossini: Il Barbiere di Siviglia
Staatsoper Berlin
10 October 2011

Il Barbiere di Siviglia | Vivica Genaux as Rosina
Roman Trekel as Figaro (c) Monika Rittershaus

Daniel Barenboim appearing at (relatively) popular prices! Yup, the peripatetic maestro does indeed make a certain number of appearances at “family performances” when he is in Berlin, where, as everybody should know by now, he is Music Director and Conductor for Life at the State Opera (Staatsoper), one of the capital’s three principal opera houses.

What everybody may NOT know by now, is that Barenboim, 68, has just been appointed Music Director at La Scala Milan, where he has been serving as Principal Conductor since 2006, following Ricardo Muti’s stormy departure. The new gig will keep him busy at La Scala for four months every season until the end of 2016. How many of his numerous recital and other engagements he can also fulfill -- leader of the Diwan Youth Orchestra for example -- remains to be heard.

What I found notable about his appearance on the podium at a performance of Il Barbiere di Siviglia on 10 October was how well-rehearsed and interesting his reading was. A couple of seasons back, he gave a much anticipated but disappointing recital from the stage of the Metropolitan Opera. The most frequent line I heard during intermission was, “He needs to travel less and practice more.”

At the performance of Barbiere on 10 October, though, Barenboim looked relaxed and gave the appearance, at least, of being thoroughly prepared -- often calling out inner voices in the instrumentation and vocal writing that frequently go unheard. I’ve seldom seen him in such a playful mood, especially with the orchestra of the Staatskapelle, which I rarely -- even at pricey Easter Festival conditions -- have heard play better. In more than a few instances, he seemed to be enjoying a tacit private joke with his players. They clearly love him.

But Barenboim’s bonhomie in the pit did not always reach the stage, where the vocalism in general was excellent but only here and there inspired. Perhaps his measured tempi had something to do with it: the revelations permitted by allegro moderato can sometimes bump the brio out of allegro con brio. The singers who got with the program best were Rachel Frenkel and Alexander Vinogradov. Frenkel is a lyric mezzo who portrayed Rosina as sly but sympathetic. She is attractive and a comely stage presence, while rattling out fioritura with no perceptible fear. Vinogradov has sung Don Basilio often enough to get giggles from the audience at the right places, irrespective of tempo.

Il barbiere di Siviglia | Alexander Vinogradov as Basilio (c) Monika Rittershaus

Christopher Maltman and Dmitry Korchak as Figaro and Almaviva respectively, sang with accurate pitch and rhythm but they seemed at a loss to find the bubbly in their characters.

All the more surprising because the famous Brecht-meets-commedia dell’arte production dating from 1968 by the late Ruth Berghaus cuts the singers plenty of slack for all kinds of inventive mischief. The staging is a holdover from the Staatsoper’s DDR period and is one of the crowning gems in its repertoire. Even after all these years, it still is sparkling, nuanced and highly instructive. It should never be replaced.

Rococo Theater at Sans Souci (Potsdam)

Between Smetana and Rossini, I couldn’t resist visiting the Neues Palais at Sans Souci on 9 September for a recital of Bach and Telemann in its jewel box Rococo theater, featuring mandolinist Avi Avital and produced by Potsdam’s Kammerakademie. The mini-opera house is tucked away in the upper regions of the palace and features amphitheater seating on the parquet level. What a delight to hear this music in an environment that would not have felt strange to composers performed at this concert!

©Sam H. Shirakawa

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