This page was last updated on: October 13, 2009


Il barbiere di Siviglia, Royal Opera House, London, July 2009
Juan Diego Flórez as Count Almaviva and Pietro Spagnoli as the Barber of Seville
Il barbiere di Siviglia, Royal Opera House, London, July 2009

          Il barbiere di Siviglia, Royal Opera House at Covent Garden, Opera, September 2009
          Il barbiere di Siviglia en Londres, Pro Ópera, September - October 2009
          Il Barbiere di Siviglia laughs off unlucky break, Evening Standard, 8 July 2009
          Il barbiere di Siviglia, Royal Opera House, London, Financial Times, 7 July 2009
          Top Barber despite a close shave, Daily Mail, 10 July 2009
          The Barber of Seville at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, The Times, 7 July 2009
          Il barbiere di Siviglia, Royal Opera House, London, The Independent, 9 July 2009
Il barbiere di Siviglia, Royal Opera House at Covent Garden, July 4 and 13
Peter Reed, Opera, September 2009

Joyce DiDonato's Rosina was the only principal common to Moshe Leiser's and Patrice Caurier's original 2005 production and this year's first revival, and she very nearly didn't make it beyond the interval of the first night. After a stupendously virtuosic 'Una voce poco fa' she slipped and, as it was announced, sprained her ankle; she carried on through the rest of the evening with the support of a walking stick. As it turned out, she had broken her leg, and she performed for the remainder of the run confined to a wheelchair and restricted to a runway between the front of the set and the edge of the stage. This involved quite a lot of directorial adjustment, including Jennifer Rhys-Davies's wonderful Berta trashing the set on Ronsina's behalf during the storm scene.

In the end it hardly mattered, because the quality of the singing and acting was so high. Indeed, for sharp characterization, wit, virtuosity and sheer verve, this was a truly brilliant Barbiere, the high point of the Royal Opera's summer Italian season.

For Juan Diego Flórez as Count Almaviva, superlatives fail; he is the bel canto tenor of our time, the voice trim and tireless, the coloratura sung out with supernatural ease and laser-like accuracy, the quality of the sound both sweet and steely. His comic interaction with the rest of the cast had an appealing and seductive hauteur, and after a heroic 'Cessa di più resistere' he brought the house down with a dazzling 'Ah, il più lieto'. The applause, rather ostentatiously timed by Alessandro Corbelli (Bartolo), went on for ages.

Bel canto note for note, DiDonato was easily Flórez's equal. Her light mezzo eased into soprano with no sense of strain, bouncing through all the coloratura tricks with ease, and the wheelchair rather enhanced Rosina's frustration and imprisonment.

These two singers would have made this a distinguished Barbiere, but the rest of the casting was at the same high level. In his Royal Opera debut, Pietro Spagnoli was an alpha-male Figaro, with big athletic singing matched by appropriately domineering acting. He set himself a high standard with a commanding 'Largo al factotum' and sustained it throughout.
Corbelli's Doctor Bartolo was superbly comic, and he delivered a mercurial and mordant 'A un dottor'. There was an astonishingly baleful and grotesque Don Basilio from Ferruccio Furlanetto, sung in his vast, cavernous bass and played as a cross between Basil Fawlty and Max Wall - 'La calunnia' was a comic gem. Rhys-Davies made every note count in Berta's 'Il vecchietto', a masterpiece of tipsy comic timing; and as Fiorello Changhan Lim got the action off to a fine start with a clean and even 'Piano, pianissimo'.

On July 13, Colin Lee's distinguished Almaviva was well worth going back for. His coloratura sounded marginally more prepared than Flórez's, but there is a lyrical warmth at the centre of his voice that is very attractive. His line is lithe and refined, as fans of many Opera Rara recordings will know, and he did all the drunken soldier and Don Alonso stuff in great style. It was a winning performance.

All the cast sparked off each other in the sort of egging-on, competitive way that is a pleasure when it works, and the precision in the ensembles was a joy, fired up by Antonio Pappano's tight yet flexible conducting and the orchestra's buoyant, witty playing. DiDonato's mishap rather stole the thunder from Leiser's and Caurier's direction and Christian Fenouillat's set, which presented the comedy well enough but otherwise were not that memorable.

Il barbiere di Siviglia en Londres
Eduardo Benarroch, Pro Ópera, September - October 2009

"Si lo tienes, muestralo!", según el dicho, y La Ópera Real tiene todos los ingredientes para ponerla al frente de los teatros operísticos del mundo. Al fin de una temporada de muy buena calidad, y cuando muchos teatros ponen relleno, se presentó a Rossini vestido de fiesta. No sólo la produccion puso una sonrisa en la cara del espectador, sino que con un elenco de excepcion no hubo más que sentarse y disfrutar. La produccion posee fantasía y tiende a ser disparatada, y cuando se cuenta con una Rosina en silla de ruedas que se hace Joyce DiDonato (se había fracturado el pie durante la primera función y rehusó su reemplazo con coraje, por lo que el resultado fue un espectáculo aún más disparatado) el corazón de los británicos, de siempre poner buena cara ante la adversidad, se tradujo en mucha simpatía para todos. Pero no fue necesaria, porque la DiDonato es una cantante de agallas y una voz de excepcion. Su Rosina tuvo ese "algo
más" que falta en tantas cantantes, y hasta en su silla de ruedas fue creíble.

A su lado, el rey del bel canto, Juan Diego Flórez, con una voz milagrosa de timbre especial y muy personal, y una técnica tan segura que le permite relajarse en escena, actuando cada vez mejor. La larga ovacion al concluir su aria final fue digna de su excepcional canto y una válvula de escape para el público que debía también dejar saber que se había contenido con su entusiasmo. Alessandro Corbelli presentó a Don Bartolo en forma más seria que de costumbre, aunque siempre es divertido, pero junto a la complicidad de Ferruccio Furlanetto como Don Basilio, se constituyeron en un par de bribones de primera clase. Furlanetto posee una voz enorme, algo rígida, y su presencia en escena confirió autoridad. El doble acto entre Basilio y Bartolo en el dúo fue simplemente desopilante por la absurda coreografia.

A Jennifer Rhys-Davies se le confió el aria de Berta, que despachó con aplomo, y Pietro Spagnoli canto
Figaro con desparpajo, movimientos excelentes y una voz también muy personal y atractiva, redondeando un elenco que no dejó nada que desear, incluso en los roles menores, otra especialidad de la casa. Si se suma la magnífica dirección de Antonio Pappano que presentó a Rossini vestido de seda liviana, con sonidos exquisitos, unos solos de calidad inmejorable, fraseo inteligente y novedoso, ¿qué más se puede pedir? Una noche de lujo en un teatro donde todos trabajan porque lo aman, incluso el público.

Il Barbiere di Siviglia laughs off unlucky break
Nick Kimberley, Evening Standard, 8 July 2009

In most circumstances, consigning the heroine of Rossini's ll Barbiere di Siviglia to a wheelchair would count as cranky post-modernism. Last night at the Royal Opera House, it was stark necessity.

On Saturday the American mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato was singing the role of Rosina. Everything went swimmingly until, just after her showpiece aria, she slipped and twisted her ankle; or so she thought.

Trouper that she is, she limped on, returning after the interval with a crutch. The show over, she was rushed to hospital, only to learn that she'd broken a bone in her foot.

Last night, her leg in a fetching pink cast, she took the stage in a wheelchair, but whatever the accident did to her foot, it had done no damage to the bone, muscle and cartilage that support her fabulous coloratura.

The set for Moshe Leiser and Patrice Caurier's production is a raised box, which leaves a runway at the front of the stage, along which DiDonato propelled her wheelchair.
It may not exactly be what Rossini had in mind, but it did no real harm. If anything, her separateness established Rosina as the more or less still centre around which the rather strenuous comedy revolves.

While the acting was more knockabout than characterful, the singing for once made it possible to believe that all Rossini's staccatos, crescendos and pitter-pattering consonants were a natural form of expression.

Figaro, the barber of the title, was energetically incarnated by Pietro Spagnoli, who on any other night would have been the star. Yet while DiDonato was the focus of attention, the biggest round of applause went to the Almaviva of Juan Diego Flórez, whose tenor soared easily through almost every challenge that Rossini threw down. His duets with DiDonato perfectly demonstrated what bel canto means.

Backstage after the show, DiDonato was elated: "If Moshe and Patrice had said before we started, 'We're going to put you in a wheelchair', I would have declared it pure Eurotrash and stormed out. I got introduced to my wheelchair at about 5 o'clock and had just half an hour of preparation onstage beforehand. In the story, Rosina is caged; the beautiful thing is that tonight that became something quite literal: I felt trapped in the wheelchair. That helped dramatically. This was one of the most thrilling nights I've ever spent in the theatre.".

Il barbiere di Siviglia, Royal Opera House, London
Richard Fairman, Financial Times, 7 July 2009

Opening an opera on the weekend of the Wimbledon tennis finals can be risky. As though to counter any rival sporting attraction, the Royal Opera has given this revival of Il barbiere di Siviglia a star cast who sang with an agility and accuracy every bit as dazzling as the passing shots being seen south of the river.

This is the first time Moshe Leiser and Patrice Caurier's production has been revived since it was new in 2005. Almost the whole opera is played inside a large box, like some children's toy with entrances and exits that open up out of nowhere. But otherwise it is a traditional show  lively, true to Rossini's spirit and just the right side of garish with its bold, poster-paint colours.

There was only one moment of worry on Saturday. Joyce DiDonato had just made a brilliant job of Rosina's opening aria  she sings it in the mezzo key, but dashes upstairs into the soprano territory as if it is no trouble at all  when she slipped badly and fractured her fibia. Undaunted, she gamely pressed on, propped up on a crutch after the interval, and her singing scampered around the semiquavers as nimbly as ever.

For speed of coloratura it would be hard to put a wafer between her and Juan Diego Flórez's Count Almaviva. Flórez is the Rossini tenor of the day. He throws off top notes as if he is used to singing half a dozen high Cs before breakfast, and looks the part as a tall, dark youthful Spanish charmer. For good measure he sang the whole of Almaviva's closing aria, which is usually cut (for good reason), and made it the high point of the evening.

There was no weak link. Pietro Spagnoli announced himself as a Figaro with plenty of punch in his singing. The expert Alessandro Corbelli showed how much comic fun can be had with crusty old Doctor Bartolo, and Ferruccio Furlanetto, booming like a rumbling thunderclap of doom and gloom, made a wicked caricature out of Don Basilio. With music director Antonio Pappano charging up the Royal Opera orchestra to playing of high energy, this is a completely winning revival of Il barbiere  game, set and match..

Top Barber despite a close shave
David Gillard, Daily Mail, 10 July 2009

Florez fever and the Curse of the Singer's Leg took centre stage together in an unforgettable evening of Rossinian brilliance.

Juan Diego Florez first. The silken-voiced Peruvian superstar gets better with every performance, and here - in his Royal Opera role debut as a lithe and handsome Count Almaviva - he once more had the audience in raptures.
Intoxicated by his vocal agility - there simply isn't a lyric coloratura tenor who matches him - they stamped, screamed and whistled for a third act encore after he'd effortlessly delivered an aria once thought unsingable.

Only a couple of weeks ago at Glyndebourne, a principal pulled a muscle and had to continue with the aid of a stick and a leg brace.

Here it was the misfortune of our feisty Rosina - the delightful American mezzo Joyce DiDonato - to take a tumble in the first act and apparently sprain her ankle.

But Ms DiDonato is a doughty diva and she tottered back on a hospital crutch to scatter a seamless barrage of effervescent Rossinian trills.

And she even cleverly used the crutch as an unlikely impromptu prop. (It later transpired that she had fractured her fibula and will sing the rest of the run from a wheelchair, her leg in plaster.)

The performance goes live - and free - to 14 Big Screen relays across the country on July 15. Don't even think of missing it.

The Barber of Seville at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden
Richard Morrison, The Times, 7 July 2009

I blame it on her silly pink high heels. Halfway through Act I of this Royal Opera Rossini revival, Joyce DiDonato, singing Rosina, slipped and twisted her leg. A fractured fibula was later diagnosed.

Quite apart from the pain, she picked entirely the wrong production to hobble through. In the Act I finale of this Moshe Leiser and Patrice Caurier staging, the claustrophobic set in which all the characters are squabbling suddenly rises into the air and starts rocking violently, like a cross-channel ferry caught in a gale. As DiDonato gamely clung on, one feared that a rare SOS  "prima donna overboard!"  would have to be sent to the Metropolitan Police.

But the American mezzo is a tough trouper. Although an NHS crutch played an incongruously large part in Act II, she sang to the end, her scintillating coloratura apparently unaffected, and won the night's biggest laugh when she delivered the suddenly apt line: "I have cramp in my foot."

The incident added some real drama to a staging which, though genial enough, doesn't exactly dazzle with wit or invention. Indeed, it was at its most theatrically powerful (as in 2006, when it was new) when DiDonato was giving her impression of a caged tigress going crazy with sexual frustration, and reduced to hurling darts at the wall. And her unscripted accident curtailed all that.

The production's limitations didn't really matter, because if you heard nothing except Juan Diego Flórez's Almaviva blaze through the final 15 minutes of Rossini's opera you would still have had your money's worth. Flórez is in amazing form: his runs brilliantly etched, his tone glinting, his top notes seemingly effortless. He held his brilliant final B flat without a quiver of insecurity for what seemed like half a minute.

Pity poor Pietro Spagnoli. In lesser company the Italian baritone would surely have been the star of the show, delivering Figaro's numbers with panache and impressively meaty tone. He surely did enough on his Covent Garden debut (standing in for an indisposed Simon Keenlyside) to guarantee a swift recall.

Around him seasoned compatriots Alessandro Corbelli (a superbly comic Bartolo) and the massive bass Ferrucio Furlanetto (portraying a Basilio that was half Boris Godunov and half Boris Karloff) ensured that the prestissimo ensembles fizzed. All was impeccably held togther in the pit by the conductor Antonio Pappano, except when the set did its bizarre hokey cokey. For this stellar cast to be upstaged by the scenery must be galling.

Il barbiere di Siviglia,, Royal Opera House, London
Edward Seckerson, The Independent, 9 July 2009

Rossini's The Barber of Seville is packed with showstoppers; but when did we last see it cast at such strength, sung with such vocal- chord twisting relish, and conducted with such panache that every number did just that - stop the show? Answer: the current revival of Moshe Leiser and Patrice Caurier's wild staging at the Royal Opera House. They must have added a quarter of an hour to the running time in applause. Indeed, when Juan Diego Flrez came to nail Count Almaviva's "Cessa di piu resistere" in the closing scene - an aria so fiendish in the difficulty of the coloratura that it was once deemed unsingable and invariably cut - such was the bedlam in the audience that Alessandro Corbelli's Doctor Bartolo had to look at his pocket watch (in character, of course) in order to get the show restarted. It was that kind of night.

You know you are on to a good thing with Barber when the overture doesn't sound so familiar. Antonio Pappano doesn't do routine, ever, and here the rhythms were so freshly minted and the clarinet and bassoon solos so ripe that you actually wondered what came next. It was like that throughout, with such ear-pricking dynamics and reflexes from the orchestra that you truly began to rediscover Rossini.

Ditto the staging. Christian Fenouillat's candy-striped box of tricks works a treat, with doors and windows and staircase only appearing for entrances and exits so you really do feel like Rosina, trapped under house-arrest. And when everyone's heads go woozy in the virtuosic act one finale, so does the set. Has there ever been a more literal interpretation of "dazed and confused"?

Joyce DiDonato's Rosina was hanging on for dear life at that point, having stumbled and broken her leg in the second scene. She battled on, singing with delicious innuendo and fabulous aplomb, and her crutch came in useful when she trashed the set in the storm scene. But then no one was ever buying that "I am a well-behaved girl" line. DiDonato owns this role.

Alessandro Corbelli could have created Bartolo, all bluster and great comic timing; Ferruccio Furlanetto's Basilio brought borderline insanity and precarious physical contortions to the mounting hysteria of his slander aria; and Pietro Spagnoli's feisty Figaro had everybody's number. And Florez? How does he do it? It's called technique.