Now in its fifteenth edition and recently awarded with the prestigious Premio Abbiati, LTL Opera Studio this year has chosen the most celebrated opera buffa ever written, Il barbiere di Siviglia, which, after its inauguration at the Teatro Goldoni in Livorno, will be shortly reprised at the Teatro Verdi in Pisa and Teatro del Giglio in Lucca, co-producers of the production together with the Teatro Coccia of Novara, where it will be revived this coming autumn. As usual the casts (and there are three of them) are formed by young artists selected several months before, and “forced” into a long and intense preparatory stage and musical work at the experts hands of established directors and conductors. The production was entrusted to Alessio Pizzech, who concocted and gave birth to an original, ingenious, desecrating, risqué, sinful, hyperkinetic, fast and industrious Barbiere that moves rapidly like clockwork with no dead moments. Pier Paolo Bisleri’s sets at first looked ivory white, neutral and aseptic, Ikea-style, but almost immediately the six big Venetian blinds (thanks to Claudio Schmid’s masterly lighting) took on a campy and kitschy tone, adjectives I am using with an absolutely positive meaning. In such context Pizzech imagines a Barbiere straddling two worlds, where the characters wear extravagant costumes (also by Bisleri), a delirious hotchpotch of eighteenth century relics mixed with others straight from the late 1950s and early 1960s imagery of Grease or American Graffiti. In the programme notes Pizzech states that “the Barbiere becomes a precise, rhythmic and poetic game leading to a sublime score of stage and music, searching for a sincerity derived from astonishment”. And astonishment is the key word, if even a jaded opera-goer like myself, with dozens of Barbiere productions under my belt, was able to be continuously astounded and surprised, stunned by the quantity and quality of pertinent ideas sprung from the director’s imagination: not one single boring moment, and all things considered this is the supreme purpose of an opera, and an opera buffa in particular; it is well known that making the audience laugh is much more difficult than make them cry.
The opera opens with Almaviva wearing a white powdered wig as well as a long leather studded jacket and singing his cavatina into a microphone, standing on a round concert platform, and engaging in movements and hip swivels that immediately reminded me of Elvis Presley and Freddy Mercury, and which will be repeated, in different variations, by each character all throughout the opera: Don Basilio is a weird figure, a blend between a bat and the Wicked Witch of the West, and he arrives on stage perched on a chair like a vulture or lowered in a harness and singing a whole scene hanging in mid air. Don Bartolo wears a bright orange costume that could have been easily stolen from Liberace’s wardrobe, while Fiorello is lovingly, too lovingly protective of his master. Pizzech seems to be telling us that Figaro & Co. live in two parallel worlds, trying with all their strength to be pulled of from an ancient and stale world and catapulted to modernity. Thus Rosina’s rebellious side, already prominent in the libretto, is reinforced; she does not hesitate to remove her bra (facing away from the audience) and sing her famous cavatina donning underwear and transparent farthingale; particularly felicitous was the idea of turning – during the lesson scene – her agility work into orgasmic warbles, considering that Rosina and the Count make out on and under the fortepiano while Bartolo sleeps, with the final high A suggesting her climax. And here I stop because it would be superfluous and boring to detail every trick and deviation from the norm concocted by the director. Such imagination was fortunately shared with the conductor, Nicola Paszkowki, already much admired last year for his Falstaff. In a few words, Pazskowski, at the helm of an excellent OGI Orchestra Giovanile Italiana, hits the target by giving shape to the abstract musical forms without minimally neglecting to project the drama. His reading exudes theatrical pulse and rhythmic flexibility; it is light and bubbly but architecturally as strong as steel. Particular care was lavished on the accompaniments: just one example, the precise and graceful intricate decorations of the first violins, bassoons and clarinets at the beginning of Act II, when “Don Alonso” makes his way into Bartolo’s house. Paszkowski recreates Rossini’s musical frenzy in an exquisite arabesque of timbres and rhythms, imparting to this sublime score the superior elegance of stylisation without detracting from the uncontainable vitality that supports it. He chose to perform Zedda’s critical edition in its entirety, without even the smallest cut, including Almaviva’s final rondo (which makes the tenor the absolute protagonist: after all the only superstar at the 1814 premiere was Manuel Garcia), and adding stylish variations.
Without mincing words, the cast was the weakest link in the chain. It would be unfair to expect virtuosistic work from very young artists but, with one single exception, the singers, though displaying uncommon acting ability, showed such vocal flaws as to make me take the unusual decision to mention their names (at least in the first cast) without lingering on each individual performance: William Hernandez (Figaro), Alfonso Zambuto (Almaviva), Eugenio Di Lieto (Don Basilio), Diego Savini (Don Bartolo), Simona Marzilli (Berta), Federico Cucinotta (Fiorello) and Massimiliano Svab (un ufficiale). I would rather dwell on the positive side and highlight the Rosina of Laura Verrecchia, an authentic mezzo-soprano (not the usual short soprano in disguise), gifted with a homogenous amber-tinted instrument at times reminiscent of young Sonia Ganassi and even early-career Cossotto in some of her high notes. Her agility, albeit decent, is perfectible: it is a pliable voice and very likely to acquire a dizzier coloratura with further studies. A very attractive young woman, she exhibited a sensational stage command, a quality shared with the rest of the cast. Easy prediction: you will soon read her name in the playbills of major opera companies.
The second cast seemed to be less scenically engaged, but the singing of the males was on a higher level, especially the lower voices: Davide Franceschini (Bartolo), Lorenzo Malagola Barbieri (Fiorello), Carlo Checchi (Figaro), an interesting and promising lyric baritone with a pleasing timbre and a secure top, and particularly José Gabriel Morera, a satisfying aptly dark and sonorous Don Basilio, who had no problems singing his aria in the rarely heard original key. Tenor Bechara Moufarrej’s ringing lyric tenor would be better heard in a different repertoire because the agility was not his forte; the cast was completed by Alessia Martino as Rosina and Máriam Guerra Chamorro as Berta.
Photos: Augusto Bizzi, Livorno