High-stepping productions by that enfant-terrible double act Moshe Leiser and Patrice Caurier divide the critics but always fill the house. With a cast led by Joyce DiDonato as Rosina and Toby Spence as Count Almaviva, their take on Rossini's Il Barbiere di Siviglia should run to form.
But, when I catch Spence between rehearsals and ask how it's going, he takes a deep breath and looks serious: "They're deconstructing it." How? "Well, this was my first operatic role, and I thought I knew it inside out, but it feels like I've never done it before. Everyone else feels the same way.
"This is a piece that is done too much, in too many houses," he explains. "And performers all have their little tricks sorted. Moshe and Patrice are determined to make this more like Molière, to bring it back to true farce."
Their aim, he says, is to make the comedy clean, to make it come from true situations. "This morning, for example, in the finale of the first act, there are moments when I'm talking to Basilio, and moments that are asides." In the ENO production in which Spence also sometimes stars, he walks to the edge of the stage to deliver his asides. "I started doing that, and they said, 'Whoa - why are you doing that?' And I had to admit I didn't know. So they said, 'Stay there, then.'"
So how does he distinguish between direct speech and an aside? "With body language. From having been relaxed and bold and brave, suddenly I'm nervous.
"The conventions we've developed in opera are lazy; they're merely what has worked before. My actor friends all regard this as the evil they must avoid, but in opera the convention is the reverse." What's more, he adds, the set will be stripped bare: "Everything will have to be communicated with the body and the voice. We've got nowhere to hide."
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