Covent Garden were wise to follow their wonkily-conceived new production of Bellini’s Norma with a revival of the Leiser-Caurier Barbiere di Siviglia, one of the most dependable weapons in their armoury. Rossini’s sparkling comedy there finds its ideal visual reflection, kicking off with a lovely sight-gag as the whispered conspiracy between Almaviva and Fiorello turns out to involve an entire stage-full of musicians clumsily preparing to serenade the Count’s beloved. The stylised boxed sets, with their soft pastel colours, suggest a world which is entirely artificial, but the acting and singing make it pulsatingly real.
Each new cast – and this is the fourth – has its own strengths. This one is blessed with a gale-force Figaro (Vito Priante) and a Don Basilio (the great Ferrucio Furlanetto) whose turns his calumny-aria – one of Rossini’s most surreal notions – into a larger-than-life nightmare for the hapless Doctor Bartolo (nicely characterized by Jose Fardilha). Daniela Mack makes an unusually commanding Rosina, and when the Mexican tenor Javier Camarena settles into the part of Almaviva – his opening aria was rough on the first night – his singing grows steadily in beauty and authority. But his characterisation hasn’t been thought through: his demeanour is that of a servant, not an aristocrat, so the necessary dramatic contrast with Figaro is lost. Henrik Nanasi conducts with fine attention to detail.
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