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Opera Review: The Barber of Seville (Bern, Switzerland)

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Bern, Switzerland is a charming medieval town that is still pretty much intact. It has been recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. It’s famous for its Bear Pit (Barengraben), its 15th century Gothic Cathedral, and an elaborate medieval clock tower complete with moving puppets. The old town has one of the largest covered shopping arcades in Europe. It’s a bustling place full of beauty and charm.

It is also home of the State Theatre of Bern. The State Theatre of Bern is an impressive building with an ornate interior, but it is not large by opera standards. Nevertheless, such luminaries as Grace Bombay, Jose Carreras, Jesse Norman, and Placido Domingo have performed here. It is also one of the training grounds for young performers making their way through the operatic ranks. When it is not being used for opera, they feature plays and ballet.

Currently a wonderful modern production of The Barber Of Seville by Rossini is joyously occupying the stage. It features a very talented young cast, a superb design by Julia Hansen (who also did the delightful costumes), forceful maestro Srboljub Dinic, and a most creative and innovative young director, Ariame Clement.

The set is one of those magical cubes that revolve. Like a puzzle, it comes apart to reveal more rooms than you think possible. The set constantly surprises the audience and the cast obviously enjoys working with it.

Ms. Hansen’s costumes were likewise creative, especially in the disguises of the Count – a gun-toting terrorist (an intoxicated sailor in the original), and an Elvis Presley-like getup for the Count when he is masquerading as a music teacher.

The singing was on a high level, and the youth, humor, and the exuberance of the cast, infectious. A jaunty, sexy young Englishman, Robin Adams, plays Figaro. Not only does he have a good voice, but also wonderful stage presence.

Count Almaviva was the lean tenore de grazie (a tenor with a light but flexible voice, capable of some great vocal acrobatics), Alexey Kudrya from Russia. He has a lovely lyrical tone and can even do a little dancing. Lionel Peintre plays the frustrated, anguished Dr. Bartolo (here a dentist). He has a rich baritone voice and a nice comic sense, and was an audience favorite.

The Swiss mezzo, Claude Eichenberger, sings Rosina. While I prefer this role sung by a coloratura, Ms Eichenberger sang with a lusty soprano. One of the funniest scenes I have ever seen in an opera was her first solo, which she performed in bed while waxing her legs. Her comic ability shone throughout. All the cast is made up of good actors and really enjoyed the comedy.

For me, the star of the evening was the director, Mariame Clement. The choices she made were always fresh, often hysterically funny, and never let up. Her choices included a scene sung from trashcans, a scene where the Count and Figaro relieve themselves on Dr. Bartolo’s shop, and the above-mentioned waxing scene. I think she has a promising future ahead. I hope this particular production has some future.

The opera will be performed again May 3, 7, 9, 17, 20, 30 and June 11 and 20, at the State Theater of Bern (English language option) or call 41 31 329 51 11.

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About Robert Machray

  • interesting juxtaposition that Bern is a UNESCO World Heritage Site…and so is SEVILLE, site of the opera.

    Also Seville named by UNESCO Heritage as the City of Music.
    see here and here.