It was a special celebration at the Wiener Staatsoper and the theatre was sold out to the last seat and standing room place. Juan Diego Flórez, the greatest Rossini tenor of his generation, returned to Vienna as Count Almaviva, almost exactly twenty years after his role debut. His Almaviva was nothing short of spectacular, different from the old days, but just as good.

Juan Diego Flórez (Count Almaviva)
© Wiener Staatsoper | Michael Pöhn

The historic production by Günther Rennert, which debuted in 1966 in a performance in German, shows remarkable resilience; Alfred Siercke sets the stage as a Spanish house on three floors, whose façade opens to show the inside, as a doll’s house, or closes for the scenes taking place on the outside. The concept and the costumes are traditional, strictly following the indication of the libretto, not particularly original or interesting, but they serve the story well, and the result is a funny, lively performance, if not exactly thought-provoking.

The Orchestra of the Vienna State Opera produced its usual gorgeous sound, giving a precise, detailed rendition of the score, with beautiful phrasing and highlighting of single instruments. Evelino Pidò managed to keep the pace exciting without being rushed, and managed to rein in the singers who, at times, tended to rush in the ensembles, in particular during the “Buona sera” quintet in Act 2. Generally speaking, the performance would have benefited from some more rehearsal time: the concertati were not as perfect as Rossini would have them, and there was some tripping on stairs and fumbling around stage props, although nothing to hinder the enjoyment of the evening.

Rafael Fingerlos (Figaro)
© Wiener Staatsoper | Michael Pöhn

Rafael Fingerlos portrayed a young, spirited Figaro; his pleasant voice seemed at times more comfortable in the tenor than in the baritone range, he seemed to lack some strength in the lower register. Rosina was Margarita Gritskova, she displayed a remarkable coloratura and confident high notes. Her variations in the coloratura were not always perfectly in style, but original, and always elegant. The voice was deep and round, not without some occasional roughness in the passaggio. She displayed remarkable acting qualities, and her performance resulted extremely successful.

Paolo Rumetz, as Bartolo, was funny and engaging, with perfectly delivered punchlines. His voice was well projected and strong, and he did a remarkable job in the diabolically hard sillabato at the end of his aria “A un dottor della mia sorte”. The more melodic parts of the aria were perhaps less successful, but overall his singing, as well as his acting, were enjoyable. Sorin Coliban, as Basilio, avoided all the many pitfalls of his aria “La calunnia”: he didn’t overact, he managed to maintain an elegant and beautiful line of singing, with a deep, round and warm voice. Unfortunately, he missed the high E both times, which was a pity, the single flaw of a beautiful performance.

Margarita Gritskova (Rosina) and Paolo Rumetz (Doctor Bartolo)
© Wiener Staatsoper | Michael Pöhn

Berta (who, in this production, is called “Marzelline”, probably a legacy of the first performance in German) was Lydia Rathkolb, with a light, high soprano. In her aria di sorbetto “Il vecchiotto cerca moglie” she dared some unusual coloratura in the variations, which resulted very pleasant, if not entirely in style.

But the star of the evening was Flórez, whose voice has deepened and grown darker in the last few years, which accounts for his exploration of other types of repertoire, and the fans’ fear that he might stray away from Rossini completely. With this performance he proved that his relationship with Almaviva is strong and enduring. He employed slightly different variations, little flourishes I've never heard before, exploring details of the score, and of the character himself. Flórez embraced the silliness of the plot like a child, climbing a pole trying to reach Rosina’s balcony, having fun in the disguises, dancing and jumping around in a flowing blonde wig as “Don Alonso”. At the end of Act 2 he graced the audience with “Cessa di più resistere”, the fiendishly difficult aria that has become one of his trademarks. He performed it with great momentum, diving into the coloratura, with incredible precision and elegance, and splendid high notes. The ovation that followed was endless, with the other singers applauding him from the stage.

Alas, the finale of the opera was tarnished by the unbelievable absence of the chorus on stage. Almaviva sang his aria without the chorus interventions, and the finale was sung only by the soloists on stage. Where had the chorus gone?

Nevertheless, this was an enthralling performance, enthusiastically greeted.