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BWW Review: IL BARBIERE DI SIVIGLIA at STAATSOPER UNTER DEN LINDENIn the right hands, Rossini's IL BARBIERE DI SIVIGLIA can be one of the funniest pieces in the standard operatic repertoire. At the many productions of this work that I have seen, there were, at best, a few smiles. When comedy is not done right, it's a tough, sloppy slog. Last night at Berlin's Staatsoper unter den Linden, I (and the rest of the audience) laughed out loud numerous times during this thoroughly charming, utterly delightful and simply hilarious production. IL BARBIERE at the Staatsoper has restored my faith in going to the opera in Berlin. In contrast to most productions in Berlin, IL BARBIERE splendidly entertains, rather than tries to "educate" its audience, and does so with wit, style, and skill.

The "Bel Canto" (beautiful singing) operas of Rossini, Donizetti and Bellini are showcases for dazzling, agile voices. Over the last 50 years, Ruth Berghaus' 1968 production has been performed over 360 times in this theater. Thankfully, it has been left intact. Unlike some of Berghaus' later, more "Brechtian" productions, where it was often difficult to tell what opera one was watching, her IL BARBIERE is a highly-stylized, captivating entertainment that still respects the music, the lyrics, and the singers. Berghaus created a vocabulary of hand gestures and body language for her production that compliments, rather than fights against Rossini's melodies. The deceptively simple set and gorgeous costumes by Achim Freyer put all the attention on the singers, and in this staging, the singing is literally, "front and center." Whether she was commenting on the "old school" of "stand and sing opera" or not, Berghaus stages nearly every aria by having the singers stand on top of the prompter's box and address the audience directly.

BWW Review: IL BARBIERE DI SIVIGLIA at STAATSOPER UNTER DEN LINDEN The great Italian Baritone Renato Girolami was the highlight of the evening as Bartolo. Though the entire cast was good, only Mr. Girolami fully inhabited the comic style of Berghaus' production and additionally sang with a beautiful, brilliant, true Italianate sound. In defiance of the speed of his singing, his diction was immaculate. His was a magnificent vocal performance that additionally, was very, very funny.

Holding her own with Mr. Girolami was a delightful Tara Erraught as Rosina. Ms. Erraught is a fine comedic actress, has a huge stage presence and is rightfully becoming a star on the international opera scene. Her voice is gorgeous, if not extremely large. For a Mezzo-soprano, she uses her chest voice rather sparingly, which often led to her being hard to hear in certain passages of the opera. Regardless, her Rosina was a wicked, petulant cherub, with mischievous sparkling eyes and a very specific, truly comic manner that had me belly-laughing. Her rendition of "Una voce poco fa" was the funniest I have ever seen. This young Mezzo-soprano has a huge future in front of her. All the accolades that she has already accrued are well deserved. If you have an opportunity to see Ms. Erraught onstage, don't hesitate. She and Mr. Girolami are a marvelous team.

Tassis Christoyannis as Figaro and Dimitry Korchak as Almaviva acquitted themselves nicely, when not spectacularly. Mr. Korchak's voice sounded somewhat dry at the beginning of the performance but he really came into his own in the second act of the opera, though his will never be the Italianate sound one is accustomed to with Rossini. Mr. Christoyannis has sparkling eyes and a very fine comic manner. Compared to the great Figaros of the past, his singing technique leaves a bit to be desired, but he's a fine ensemble player and had a few exceptionally funny moments. His was a performance more to be watched than listened to.

Daniel Cohen, the up-and-coming young Israeli conductor truly put the singers and orchestra through their paces, often taking very brisk tempos. This lent the evening a very sprightly touch, but there were quite a few coordination problems between the orchestra and the singers Mr. Cohen is a fine young conductor and certainly had the orchestra, if not particularly Rossini, in his grip. In the overture, there was a notable lack of dynamic and power in the orchestra. While that improved as the evening went along, occasionally, one had the feeling that Mr. Cohen was rushing to get through the evening. One felt that despite his obvious technical facility, Rossini is not particularly Mr. Cohen's music.

Particular mention must be made of the men's chorus under the direction of Raymond Hughes. Their performance in different roles in the opera added tremendously to the evening's success.

There are two more performances of IL BARBIERE in May of this year and this production will return to the Staatsoper in February 2019. If you are or will be in Berlin, make sure to see this marvelous production.

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From This Author Mark Janicello