Letter here, Letters there!

Il Barbiere di Siviglia

Bregenz Festival, Theater am Konplatz
August 16, 2019. By Oxana Arkaeva

State Theatre Voralberg

The visit to the opera performance at the Bregenz Summer Festival in Austria is always a treat, and on August 16 th, 2018 was even a greater one. The weather was marvelous, the mountains just a jump away, and the Constance lake sparkled silvery-blue. The first night presented the 3rd performance of the Gioacchino Rossini´s most popular Opera “Il Barbiere di Siviglia” by the members of the Bregenz Opera Studio.

Brigitte Fassbänder. Foto: BR Klassik

Besides the popular title, the curiosity about hearing some new, promising young voices, the biggest attraction was the staging by Brigitte Fassbaender: in the past a wonderful singer, and currently active on and behind the stage as an opera manager and stage director. The square in front of the historic Theatre at Grain Market (Theater am Konplatz) was filled with chattering, anticipating, and to a great extent, surprisingly young audience, and the evening promised to be an event. However, already from the beginning, one could not let go of the feeling the production being under-rehearsed, and a patchwork of scenes taken out of different staging, sung by Fassbaender herself during her career.

Graf Almaviva (Linard Vrielink​), Figaro (Martin Mkhize), Bartolo (Misha Kiria), ​Rosina (Svetlina Stoyanova)​, Basilio (Stanislav Vorobyov)​ & ​Berta (ChenWang)

The staging is very traditional, with most of the action taking place on the front edge of the stage. With one cliche following the other, the staging appeared dull, old-fashioned, a kind of out of the dusty shoebox. The intriguing idea shortly established by Fassbaender at the Ouverture about letters being sent back and forth remained, unfortunately, undeveloped. The core de ballet of dancing mailmen and the mute (unseen by singers?) male figure appearing here and there seemed highly outdated. Basilio, who was seen continuously sending out letters, without giving any clue of why?

What about this letters

Moreover, Bartolo, who repeatedly sexually molested Rosina, looked stepping out of the 19th century. There was no connection between the scenes or any red thread into the story established, with the only one, powerful dramatic moment during the tempest scene, at the end of the opera. In all, the success of the evening can and should be entirely attributed to performers, rather than staging. The mostly young cast is multicultural and international, though, at times one was wondering, if all of the singers were at the beginning of their career, as some sounded quite experienced and mature. Figaro by south African bariton Martin Mkhize​ appeared on stage as a T-Shirt Faktotum, dressed in glitter jacket.

Core de ballet of dancing mailmen

His acting was neither exceptional or satisfying, and he has sung with a bright, clear, rather small voice, with a bit narrow top notes. Nevertheless, overall, he showed a proper technique, though his Italian and acting skills are worthy of an extended optimization. Count Almaviva by the tenor from Netherlands Linadr Vrielink sang with a beautiful voice, gut Italian, and sounded like an example of a real Rossini tenor. He impressed at most during the finale of the opera, singing virtuous coloraturas without displaying any effort, and seemed to be as fresh as at the beginning of the evening. Rosina of Svetlina Stoyanova is a pretty young woman, with a beautiful voice, a real young mezzo, the si sponge bene ( that rolls well). Before the break, she seemed to look for a good vocal and technical balance, sounding bit narrow at the top. After the break, her voice sounded fully warmed up, more grown up, fuller, displaying a free top, and great coloraturas.

Young and smart Rosina, wraps Bartlo around her small finger

The Georgian baritone Misha Kiria as Bartolo not only had a big voice but an impressive, big stage appearance. He is a skilled, experienced singer, who feels comfortable on stage and especially with the type of man, he had to play. His aria “Signorina, un ultra4 volta” was sung and acted perfectly. Basilio performed by Russian basso Stanislav Vorobyov, presented almost a 100% reproduction of Ghiaurov/Chaliapin Basilio, which did not suite the rest of staging. His voice is real bass, full and voluminous. His acting was natural and extremely comic, already fully present in the grandiose “La Colonia” aria. Both Bartolo and Basilio gave a great stage team, enjoying each other company, giving the strongest vocal and acting performance of the evening. ChenWang as Berta sung her often excluded aria “Il vecchiotto cerca moglie” at the good student level, presenting a poorly choreographed dance, and „nervous“ acting. DanieleSqueo, a Kapellmeister from the State Theater in Karlsruhe, Germany,  conducted the Vorarlberg Symphony Orchestra. He began carefully, first extracting a school-like sound, later developing an energetic, vital Rossini sound, with its best performance in the tempest (storm) scene at the end of the opera. Though mostly well-fitted with the theatre acoustics, the orchestra was at times bit too loud, and the tempi bit too slow (like in the first aria of Almaviva).

A ploting bunch

The costumes of Dietrich von Gremeber reflected the spirit of the young team. His well-thought-through stage design showed an oversized, multifunctioning desk, where the drawers are used as balconies, the top as a living room, or study, and rooms gave some opportunities to hide, entrance and exit. At the end of the opera, the rapt audience thanked the performers and conductor with warm applause and streamed out of the packed theatre into the warmth of a beautiful summer evening.

La Calugna in development

The author of this review, though, was left with a sad feeling.  Despite the development of the musical theatre in the German-speaking part of Europe, and of the women’s rights during the last 30 years, as well as an impact of the recent #MeToo movement, the staging suggests the long outdated idea of a woman being really happy, only if she gets married, or is protected by a powerful man. The hidden qualities of Rosina’s character, being a strong, independent young woman, who fights for her freedom, did not receive more attention and thoughtful, modern interpretation. A question remains: what did these young singers learn from the experienced work? What message is to be found in Fassbender’s production? Alternatively, maybe it is also possible that the lack of such can also be considered a necessary experience? In any case, the music of Rossini, and promising young voices compensate for lack of intriguing staging, making this great opera worth of visiting an opera performance.

Conductor: Daniele Squeo
Staging: Brigitte Fassbänder Costumes & Stage Design: Dietrich von Grebmer Symphony Orchestra Vorarlberg

CAST: Graf Almaviva: Linard Vrielink​
Figaro: Martin Mkhize​
Bartolo: Misha Kiria
Rosina: Svetlina Stoyanova​
Basilio: Stanislav Vorobyov​
Berta: Chen Wang

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