When Ruth Berghaus staged The Barber of Seville in 1968, with stage and costume designer Achim Freyer, no one could imagine that this production would survive for generations. Its longevity is based on Berghaus’ formalistic approach, which avoids any reference to the present time. She doesn’t describe individual people, nor is she interested in their psychological development: she describes them as hierarchical functions, highlighting class-specific characteristics. All the lower-class characters are borrowed from the commedia dell’arte: Figaro is Arlecchino, while all the musicians in the serenade, at the beginning of Act 1, are recognisable as masked types, or stock characters. They also move and act in the style of the commedia with exaggerated gestures, silly walks, slaps and kicks resulting in clownish tumblings to the ground. The higher-class characters also have their own special gestures, one twirls her foot, another hints a kick, another walks in giant leaps. In this way the entire cast appears as puppets who are not free to move at their own pace. Some of the stereotyped gestures are adorable: the two lovers keep trying to reach each other by stretching their arms and twiddling their fingers, like children.

Jennifer Rivera (Rosina) and Colin Lee (Almaviva) © Monika Rittershaus (2010)
Jennifer Rivera (Rosina) and Colin Lee (Almaviva)
© Monika Rittershaus (2010)

Freyer’s stage consists of airy curtains that create a small stage within the stage, where all the action takes place. The curtains don’t really hide anything: all the eavesdroppers are almost in plain sight. The main colour is a pasty white, reminiscent of limestone walls, and the style is subdued Rococo. This creates a fairy-tale atmosphere, perfectly suited to the absurdities of the plot. 

The Staatskapelle Berlin was under the guidance of Julien Salemkour; his reading of the score was precise and detailed, although, for my taste, a little too much on the Romantic side, with some indulgence in lush sweeps of strings. On a few occasions the conductor somewhat struggled to keep the ensemble together; for example in the concertato of the first act finale, taken at breakneck speed. The performance was unfortunately plagued by heavy cuts, which reduced the second act to less than one hour, a choice hard to understand these days.

Marianne Crebassa was singing the role or Rosina for the first time and her prise de rôle was very successful. Her luscious, wonderfully burnished middle voice is very suited to Rossini, and her coloratura technique served her well in the vocal flourishes of her part. The high notes were perhaps not as strong as the rest of her performance, but she skilfully managed to bring them around, by lightening the voice and singing on the breath. Her interpretation was very enjoyable. Berghaus depicts Rosina and Almaviva as two love-crazed teenagers, and Crebassa became a very credible young girl in full hormonal storm. She turned the volatine in her first act aria into little giggles, almost pleasure shivers. She was irresistible.

Her beloved was Maxim Mironov, a Rossini specialist who once again proved to be a solid, exciting, idiomatic Almaviva. His very light voice was confident in the coloratura and the high notes, and his interpretation was funny and engaging. Unfortunately his last aria “Cessa di più resistere” fell victim to the cuts, which is a pity, because Mironov can do a fantastic job in this very hard bravura piece.

Bartolo was Bruno de Simone, a veteran of the bel canto repertoire, specialising in buffo roles, whose performance was solid and in perfect style. His comic timing made him one of the most successful performers on stage: he was truly funny, with just the right amount of overacting. Adriane Queiroz, as Berta, showed a high, bright soprano which beautifully contrasted Crebassa’s bronzed tone in the ensembles. She was brilliant in her second act aria, and was rewarded with great cheers.

Gyula Orendt, as Figaro, was one of the musical disappointments of the evening: his voice was powerful and well projected, but it lacked proper support, so that he resorted to shouting, squealing, and his singing ended up losing elegance. It is a pity, because in the duets and other ensembles he showed that he can control his emission and sing with more attention to dynamics. But, in his solo moments, the results were not as successful. Nevertheless, his overacting was appreciated by the audience.

Don Basilio was Grigory Shkarupa, who also had a tendency to shout, and his aria “La calunnia” was only a partial success. Adam Kutny made the most of his role as Fiorello, with a big, powerful voice and a funny, engaging presence on stage.