Danielle de Niese as Rosina. Photo: Bill Cooper
Weather permitting, a walk in the garden is obligatory before the opera. A handful of years ago, in Britain, that could only have meant Glyndebourne. Now there are several options for nation-residence opera in the UK, with but yet another festival preparing to open subsequent summer. Who could have predicted this explosion of activity — the most pricey of art types thriving, away from London and unfunded by the public purse?
The Christie family, who founded Glyndebourne, have to have a sense of humour to see these upstarts taking their formula and rebranding it in their personal image. Perhaps that is why so a lot of of the operas in this year’s festival are comedies.
The opening weekend paired two classics, the most Italian and most German of them all: Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia and Wagner’s Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg. The Rossini is pure farce, with none of the human warmth and depth that Mozart brought to the identical characters in Le nozze di Figaro. That follows later in the season, a possibility to evaluate and contrast.
There is not much a director can do with the Rossini. Annabel Arden, in charge of Glyndebourne’s new production, has tried to balance tradition with giving the opera a new look. The style is semi-abstract, mixing some contemporary dress with old costumes and dances of Seville. Blue-and-white Moorish tiles decorate the walls. Rosina twirls flamenco flourishes. Dancers enact symbolic bullfights at essential moments. The end mix is a rich paella, gaudy and wearingly fussy, even though definitely not lacking in energy.
Is it funny? Yes, but not as funny as it must be. Arden plays down the classic organization in the principal comic scenes with the drunken soldier and the bogus music teacher, leaving them both to fall flat. Removal men coming in and out with a consignment of harpsichords is a operating joke that in no way produces a laugh.
What fun there is comes from a properly-selected cast. At the best of the class is Björn Bürger’s ace Figaro, sung with brilliance, precision and a nonstop cheery grin, as if it is all no effort at all. Danielle de Niese is a Rosina of irrepressible power and sparkly, racing semiquavers, not all of them even in tone. An extra aria is added for her in Act two. Taylor Stanton’s Count Almaviva conversely slides more than the coloratura and loses his huge aria (which is typically cut) at the end. At this stage of his career a single would have thought the loveable Alessandro Corbelli might have run out of rubber-faced comic expressions as place-upon Dr Bartolo, but he is as inventive as ever. Christophoros Stamboglis booms mightily and rouses a cloud of cannonball smoke as Basilio. Janis Kelly turns Berta’s tiny aria into a show-stopper.
Above all, conductor Enrique Mazzola gets Rossini’s music to sizzle. No slouching, no lingering here and there — just razor-sharp playing from the London Philharmonic Orchestra at helter-skelter speeds. That, at least, keeps a smile on one’s face.
The revival of the 2011 production of Die Meistersinger is Glyndebourne at its default position: only intermittently inspiring, but de luxe in the quality of its musical and theatrical preparation. The efficiency rises to its highest level whenever Gerald Finley’s beautifully sung Sachs and the exemplary musicians of the LPO are functioning with each other to conjure the poetry and emotional depth at the heart of the opera.
For the rest, David McVicar’s colourful, too-camp-by-half production gives a showcase for some properly-observed portrayals. Jochen Kupfer’s pompous young popinjay of a Beckmesser, not the usual caricature, is a specific good results. Amanda Majeski is a beautiful, silvery-voiced Eva. Hanna Hipp’s nicely-sung Magdalene is nicely complemented by David Portillo’s lively David. Michael Schade gets through the Prize Song unscathed, but his tight, forced tenor makes an unhappy match for the romantic Walther. Michael Güttler, taking over from the indisposed Robin Ticciati, wields the conductor’s baton with a safe pair of hands.
Ideally, Wagner asks for a lot more, but there is adequate to justify affordable contentment on the way out. The belly laughs will have to wait for later in this season of comedies.
Glyndebourne continues to August 28, glyndebourne.com
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