This fun Barbiere was recorded during a performance at the 1988 Schwetzingen Festival. The theater is small, and so is the stage. The result is an intimate production, which suits the opera well. Michael Hampe's staging is imaginative but traditional – no revisionism here – and the stage design by Ezio Frigerio is similarly conventional. Rosina's balcony and two large, slanting windows dominate both of the sets.
Barbiere is an ensemble piece, and it falls apart if just one of the leads is an inferior singer or actor. Superstar mezzo Cecilia Bartoli will motivate purchasers of this DVD, but she is just one integral aspect of this excellently sung and dramatically apt production. She was near the beginning of her career in 1988. (She wouldn't make her debut in the United States for another two years, and La Scala still was one year away.) Her singing is just wonderful, and she uses her strong lower voice to emphasize Rosina's mischievousness. Her embellishments in "Una voce poco fa" are delightful, and actually serve an expressive purpose. (Nevertheless, I recall the composer's bon mot concerning another singer's ultra-florid performance of this aria: "Nice tune. Who wrote it?") Temperamental and bratty, her Rosina is nobody's wilting flower, and if one senses a tough core here, it's hard to know whether it belongs to the intense Bartoli, or just to her character.
Bright-voiced and even metallic, David Kuebler is a lively-eyed and amusing Almaviva. He too has little difficulty with Rossini's machine-gun volleys of notes. He sings too loudly much of the time, however. Gino Quilico, son of Canadian baritone Louis Quilico, is a more multidimensional Figaro, both vocally and dramatically. Athletic and youthful, he gives the lie to Almaviva's observation that Figaro has become roly-poly since he last saw him. Robert Lloyd, a veteran Basilio, brings sonorous low notes and comical oiliness to his role. Feller's Bartolo is short of breath on occasion, but he looks great in the role. (I didn't care for Hampe's idea of making him an angina sufferer.) Even the Berta has her day, late in the opera.
Ferro conducts with zest, and offers us more of the recitatives than we usually get. Still, many of the traditional cuts and elisions are made. The men of the Cologne City Opera Choir are the serenaders and the police officers; more time should have been devoted to blending their sound. I doubt that anyone is going to reject a Barbiere because of the chorus, however!
The sound (PCM stereo) is first-rate and lifelike. The visuals are a little less good; there are some transient focus problems as cuts are made from one camera to the next. Still, with all the activity in this production, one hardly has time to register this.
Taped live, this Barbiere is clearly superior to the cozy DG version filmed with Berganza, Prey, and Alva.
Copyright © 2003, Raymond Tuttle