Time has not taken away any of Il Barbiere di Siviglia’s charm: it has delighted both opera addicts and novices since its première nearly 200 years ago in Rome.

Now, this cheerful production at the Teatro di San Carlo refreshes the 1998 staging of director Filippo Crivelli (now revived by Mariano Bauduin), which preserves the atmosphere of scheming and deception in which the plot is soaked: tricks, camouflage and treachery to overcome obstacles to a love story that ultimately leads to the young couple's marriage.

In this setting conceived by the late celebrated designer Emanuele Luzzati, the Spanish location is suggested by the blue tiles on the walls and sliding panels, which form a glass gate that allows scene changes with simplicity and effectiveness.

The early 19th-century decor is accentuated with costumes by Santuzza Calì, merrily matching the traditional iconography of the characters, who are dressed in period clothing with comic touches – such as in the finale when the singers open up their jackets and waistcoats to reveal colourful, flowery linings.

Crivelli’s staging is not modernised, yet it is freshened up by Bauduin, who takes care of the characters without overloading them with unnecessary acting tricks. The title role is played by Sergio Vitale, who looks and sounds perfect as the boastful Figaro. The baritone showcased his easy stage presence and singing talent as the mastermind of the shams that drive the plot, with a performance that displayed the best of his voice and acting ability.

But it was the singing ability of all cast members that gave the audience an enjoyable performance, interspersed with various moments of excellence. Marianna Pizzolato was a lively and uninhibited Rosina, the young woman who strives to escape the control of her possessive and lustful guardian to meet, and eventually marry, her true love. Her mezzo-soprano voice is strong and true, and her comedic talent is quite enthralling. PIzzolato's voice is joyous and gloomy at the same time. She sang lovely coloraturas with accuracy and showed the mischievous playfulness required by the role, as in "Una voce poco fa", one of the opera's hallmark arias.

Tenor Edgardo Rocha, who played Rosina’s loved one – the Count Almaviva alias Lindoro – radiated ardour and energy, and his talent seems predestined for long-term success. His confident performance and fine voice were truly exciting in his softer singing. He sang his cavatina “Ecco ridente in cielo” with beautiful tone and elegant phrasing. Yet, as he courageously took on Rossini’s virtuosic coloratura passages, his voice sounded strained, and his vocal tone was sometimes irregular and unstable in pitch. 

Rosina’s guardian Dr. Bartolo, who is greedily determined to marry her, was played by baritone Carlo Lepore. His flair appeared a natural fit for the character, as his voice, manner and deportment made his performance the most enjoyable of the evening. He also was the only character who indulged in some comic, yet never annoying, exaggeration.

Ugo Guagliardo, bass-baritone, played Don Basilio – Rosina’s singing teacher who is conniving with Dr. Bartolo to arrange his marriage with the unenthusiastic damsel. He brought nasty resonances to his shrewd Basilio, but his voice was occasionally a little unstable. Mezzo-soprano Marta Calcaterra, in spite of her good talent, played a minor role in this opera as Berta, Dr. Bartolo’s maid. She made the most of her abilities as a singer and operatic actor, and delighted the audience when she was on stage, especially when singing her aria “Il vecchiotto cerca moglie” (“The old man seeks a wife”). Francesco Verna as Fiorello, the count’s servant, did a commendable job of not overdoing his acting,  and Mario Brancaccio as Ambrogio, Bartolo’s silent servant, was also delightful.

Some perplexities arose in terms of the conducting. No doubt Bruno Campanella led a responsive San Carlo Orchestra with honesty, meticulousness and with a strong sense of the score. But, although the ensemble performed professionally, they were not as sparkling as one might expect. The overall performance was unconvincing: at the end one remained half-hearted, as if there was something unresolved in the sound of the orchestra, as it lacked force and did not transmit all the vibes and fizziness which are the trademark of Rossini's music.    

But, all in all, it was a pleasing production which faithfully rendered one of the most familiar and best-loved operas. And, what is important for Neapolitan opera buffs, this staging of Il Barbiere di Siviglia highlights the prominence of operatic expertise which Teatro di San Carlo can count on.