Rossini - Il Barbiere di Siviglia

Théâtre des Champs Elysées, Paris, Friday December 8 2017

Conductor: Jérémie Rhorer. Production, sets, costumes: Laurent Pelly, assisted by Cléo Laigret (sets) and Jean-Jacques Delmotte (costumers). Lighting: Joël Adam. Il Conte Almaviva: Michele Angelini. Figaro: Florian Sempey. Rosina: Catherine Trottmann. Bartolo: Peter Kálmán. Basilio: Robert Gleadow. Berta: Annunziata Vestri. Fiorello: Guillaume Andrieux. Le Cercle de l’Harmonie. Unikanti chorus.

According to the TCE’s website, this Barber combined “The verve of Jérémie Rhorer, the poetry of Laurent Pelly and a seasoned cast at ease with this repertoire.”

I’d flown in that morning from a week in Houston, so perhaps I was tired. But I sat there thinking that verve, or better still a touch of Rossinian madness, was exactly what was lacking as Jérémie Rhorer conducted the none-too-accurate Cercle de l’Harmonie. I have yet to understand how and why he has become so well-known (the website mentions his Mozart performances; I don’t know them). His conducting seems pretty hum-drum to me.

Also, I get the feeling he is diva-shy, so to speak - wary of vocal display. Michele Angelini and Catherine Trottmann (replacing Kate Lindsey, “attendant un heureux événement”) both look too young to be called “seasoned” and neither seemed altogether at ease in Rossini. The offer to star in a production of this kind must be very hard to refuse, but I wonder if accepting was wise. Ms Trottmann’s Rosina was only just audible, especially in the lower range (Annunziata Vestri, as Berta, projected better in ensembles, though the sound wasn't very pleasant) and certainly didn’t sparkle. Mr Angelini’s Count was elegant but more cautiously studious than spectacularly abandoned and I missed some éclat at the top. Florian Sempey’s Figaro was better, and Robert Gleadow as Basilio was most convincing of all, but you don’t book a Barber just to enjoy “La calunnia”.

Laurent Pelly’s overall idea was to use giant sheets, reams and rolls of music paper with empty staves as sets and dress the cast in black, potentially as notes. The directing was occasionally funny – the guards charged in wielding music stands as weapons. The older cast members were seasoned enough to put in some decent comic acting and Angelini leapt about with youthful grace and charm. But Catherine Trottmann was unable to engage with the audience as a minx like Natalie Dessay in Pelly’s Fille du Régiment and in the end the whole thing felt more like the end-of-year show at a conservatory than a fully professional affair at a top Paris venue. It was gentil and it was at a pinch sympa and though I was the one who was tired and jet-lagged I’d have stayed the extra hour after the interval. But the friend I was with couldn’t face any more, so we left and went to dinner.

Maestro Wenarto puts the madness back.


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