Thursday, 16 July 2009
Nelson salutes the Barber
Horatio met his Trafalgar, so to speak, eleven years before the premiere of Rossini's Barber of Seville at Rome's Teatro Argentina (still a beautiful theatre, incidentally, though the production of Mozart's Cosi fan tutte we saw there was atrocious). I'm sure the old seadog would have enjoyed the Royal Opera's live, five-star screening beneath his column (did he go to the opera in Naples, I wonder? He turns up in Sardou's - though not Puccini's - Tosca). A preliminary word about the amateur shots: I'd never do it in the theatre, not even for the curtain-calls (a recent bane of blogging IMHO), but the relaxed spirit of the occasion and the nature of the piece encouraged me in this instance.
A vast crowd of floaters, dogged Prommers like myself and the comfortably seated cognoscenti loved it, and were honoured with not only great vision but also excellent sound. Not having sampled one of these events al fresco before - jondrytay has a vivid report of Renee's Trafalgar Traviata on his blog - I was tickled pink by the sheer accessible, perish the word, exuberance of it all. Proud, too, that even those passers-by who didn't, to be honest, seem to cast even a glance at the screen, could if they wanted see attractive stars at the top of the vocal game in such a colourful (Caurier/Leiser aka 'Mosh and Posh') production.
The huge publicity surrounding Joyce DiDonato's foot mishap onstage and her subsequent determination to play Rosina in a wheelchair can only have helped.
It only goes to show not only that a Yankeediva can be practical, but also that someone with La DiD's dramatic flair can make a real interpretation out of a spirited young girl even more restricted in her movements than Dr Bartolo intended. As she says on her blog, three weeks of intensive rehearsal went out the window and everyone moved hell and high water to do the business around her. Clearly it was she who should have wrecked the room during the storm rather than directing Berta (the splendid Jennifer Rhys Davies, a dead ringer for Montserrat Caballe with a schnozzle) to do it for her. But she carried it all off with energy and style, and her wheelchair acting was far more convincing than Anthony Sher's thousand and one things to do with a pair of crutches as Richard III.
And the singing, my word, the singing: such artistry and playfulness from DiDiva to match Juan Diego Florez's Almaviva.
Actually, I can only take what sounds to me like a rather reedy tone in small doses, certainly not a whole recital's worth, but boy, can Florez deliver the coloratura goods and the top notes in the big final aria, 'Cessa di piu resistere' (the one that's usually cut and which Rossini recycled for Cenerentola). The crowds both in the Opera House and out in the London night went wild.
Since Caurier and Leiser are no Jones or Kupfer, they didn't get evenly accomplished acting across the board; the less thoughtful the actor, as with Pietro Spagnoli's good-enough Figaro, the more pantomimic the results. But there was a de luxe 'Calunnia' from the great Furlanetto, and Corbelli as Bartolo would have to top the bill in teaching everyone how to do classic buffo acting without going over the top. The lady on the controversial empty plinth wasn't going to look at Basilio or pay much attention to Bartolo's hectoring.
I reckon she could have livened up her act with a pair of opera-glasses, but all she had with her was a camera.
Pappano is as adjusted to the spring of the Rossini style as he is to everything else he touches (Wagner maybe still excepted, though I didn't catch his last Ring, so I can't say how he may have progressed there). Here he is in front of the Royal Opera curtains introducing the show, personable as ever albeit at a distance. By the way, the often torrential rain stopped just before the opera began and held off for the rest of the evening, leaving in its wake some dramatically lovely skies.
As in the wonderful Figaro a couple of years ago, Pappano opted to sparkle on the continuo, too, though I couldn't hear the harpsichord from our coign of vantage below the portico of the National Gallery (we dashed off for a plate of pasta at the interval, which meant we missed only the music lesson scene, shockingly casual I know, but I don't think Rossini would have minded, and got seats for the rest of Act Two).
Now WHAT, by the way, is NG supremo Nicholas Penny thinking of when he goes so far as to say he wants the pedestrian walkway in front of HIS Gallery turned back into a road? I'm disappointed, though I can see where his argument about rabble-rousing and ear-splittingly loud amplified events began. Yet for every ten bad buskers, there's an event like this which has to make it all worthwhile. I have nothing against the temporary occupation of the plinth, either. My companion of the evening and I both had the same idea: if we'd booked a slot, we could have read Books I and II of Paradise Lost out loud, for our own pleasure if the crowd couldn't hear us.