In Parma, where audiences are considered the most discerning in all Italy, the benchmark for vocal artists is set traditionally high. Operagoers here are intimately familiar with the works of their favourites, from Rossini to Puccini, and know every tricky corner by heart. God forbid any singer who fails to accomplish the task without due seemliness Unsurprisingly, then, this performance attempts no directorial experiments. The main setting for this realistically inspired production both indoors and out is Rosinas house, which is converted as required into its constituent parts.
An opera buffa, a comedy, a masterpiece of intrigues, lies and love! 'Il Barbiere di Siviglia' (The Barber of Seville), an opera in two acts by Gioachino Rossini, from the Teatro Regio di Parma. The production stars Dmitry Korchak as Il Conte d'Almaviva, Ketevan Kemoklidze as Rosina, Luca Salsi as Figaro and Giovanni Furlanetto as Don Basilio. The aging Doctor Bartolo longs to marry Rosina; but with the aid of the energetic and enterprising barber Figaro, the Count succeeds in gaining entry to Bartolo's house disguised first as a soldier then as a music teacher…
Rossini himself described these works as «six dreadful sonatas, composed by me on holiday at the home (near Ravenna) of my Maecenas friend Agostino Triossi when I was at a most infantile age, not even having taken a lesson in accompaniment.» Written at the age of twelve, as if only for the pleasure of it, in only three days with an ease reminiscent of Mozart, these compositions exude an entrancing, naive freshness.
In spring 2011, the first-ever performances at New York's Metropolitan Opera of Rossini's Le Comte Ory brought standing ovations and critical-acclaim. The spectacular trio of Juan Diego Florez, Diana Damrau and Joyce DiDonato ignited vocal and theatrical fireworks. Le Comte Ory tells the story of a libidinous and cunning nobleman who disguises himself first as a hermit and then as a nun ("Sister Colette") in order to gain access to the virtuous Countess Adele, whose brother is away at the Crusades. The 2011 Met production was directed by the Tony Award-winning Broadway director Bartlett Sher, who in recent years has also staged Il barbiere di Siviglia and Les Contes d'Hoffman for the Met. Sher presented the action as an opera within an opera, updated the action by a few centuries and giving the costume designer, Catherine Zuber, the opportunity to create some particularly extravagant headgear. Juan Diego Florez starred as the title role while Diana Damrau plays his love interest, Countess Adele, and Joyce DiDonato was in breeches as his pageboy Isolier. The trio had appeared in Sher's production of Rossini's Il barbiere di Siviglia.
Countertenor performances of 19th century opera are a historical and, ultimately, true novelty. This said, for those who love the sound of the countertenor voice and want to give it a try, there are several factors that recommend this release by countertenor Franco Fagioli, with the small orchestra Armonia Atenea under George Petrou. First is that castrati were still around in Rossini's time, although on the decline, and the composer was reportedly intrigued by their voices. Second, Fagioli, unlike the vast majority of other countertenors, studied bel canto singing rather than Baroque repertory exclusively, and a certain distance present in the work of other countertenors is absent here. And third, and most important, is Fagioli's voice itself. Of the countertenors active today, he's the one with the range, the power, the attitude to make you suspend disbelief and think for a moment that you're actually listening to a castrato. He enters into the various Rossini roles represented on this recording, several of which were mezzo-soprano "pants" roles; this adds to the layers of identity-switching happening, and the parts hit Fagioli's vocal sweet spot. A bonus is that several of these are from Rossini opere serie that are little played or recorded.