“The Barber of Seville” celebrates triumphant premiere

The cheers were tremendous: rarely has a premiere at the State Opera been so enthusiastically received as "The Barber of Seville" in Nicola Hümpel's production. Why? This is what a triumph looks like: Already after most of the arias, the applause in the State Opera was unusually lively, but now, at the end of this new version of Rossini's "Barber of Seville", there is no holding back. Not only in the stalls have most of the audience risen from their seats - up to the third tier there is extensive applause and standing ovations in the sold-out hall. The cheers are seldom this big. So there should not be the slightest doubt about the resounding success of this premiere. And yet it is impossible to shake off the feeling that great opera was only served up here in a minimal version. Self-love on the upper arm Yet a lot works in this astonishing evening. Above all, the singing is good. Hubert Zapiór is an athletic, elegant, beautifully self-loving Figaro who can kiss his tattooed portrait on his own upper arm with infectious enthusiasm. Sonnyboy Dladla shines as Count Almaviva with a slender, clearly focused Rossini tenor, and Nina van Essen, with her youthfully agile mezzo-soprano, is an equally enchanting and assertive Rosina. The fact that one can hardly separate the voices of the singers from the character of the figures is a merit of Nicola Hümpel's production. She brings the audience as close to the actors as is possible in a large opera house: In razor-sharp close-ups on the video screen at the back of the stage, not a blink of an eye goes unobserved. The smallest emotions are reflected in the hugely enlarged faces that can usually be seen here. Overpowering images However, these often intimate images overwhelmingly dominate the action from the very first minute. The fact that the singers, who appear on the big screen, are at the same time standing in the flesh on the stage, which has been properly equipped with doors and a balcony by Oliver Proske, seems unimportant in comparison. After all, the actors hardly ever address the audience head-on anyway - they sing facing away from the audience into one of the side stages where the cameras are installed. Where the characters actually come from and where they go after their arias can easily be overlooked. On the video wall they are always already there. So the plot becomes a sequence of images, and the fast-paced comedy with its many surprise appearances and departures, its crazy twists and turns and its situation comedy becomes an almost elegiac series of psychograms. The undisguised look into the human face that is celebrated here could also fit the "German Requiem". In Rossini's turbulent opera, however, the calm videos sometimes seem like a handbrake on the getaway car: the warmth comes from the wrong place. Frenzied standstill This is particularly noticeable in the scenes where the piece itself takes a step back from the action, such as in the finale of the first act. Here, the music speeds up the action to such an extent that a frenzied standstill is created in which the characters circle around themselves as if idling. But the merciless mechanics that hold them captive for a magical Rossini moment remain almost without effect in the close-up: we see the pistons move, but not that the carriage is stationary. Conductor Eduardo Strausser can only occasionally break through this power of images. Nevertheless, the musicians of the State Orchestra play precisely, elegantly and - especially the percussionists - with a lot of sound imagination under his controlled direction. The recitative accompaniment on the fortepiano is also original: Francesco Greco takes small ingenious liberties by illustrating wedding thoughts with a touch of "Lohengrin" brown chorus or the grumpiness of Doctor Bartolo with hopelessly off-key tones. A Nightmare in Beige Frank Schneiders turns Bartolo, thus introduced, into a juicy character study: a man as a nightmare in beige (costumes: Esther Bialas). The supporting characters led by Daniel Miroslaw as Don Basilio are also well cast, as is the chorus, which performs its few appearances with great sophistication. The great quality of the ensemble can not only be heard, but can also be seen in the videos as a by-product: The faces also reflect the emotions of the singers under the role masks - their enthusiasm for the part, their nervousness before a coloratura line, their joy at succeeding and the applause afterwards. As distant as the production is from the play, it comes as close to the people who perform it: That is the double speciality of this "Barber" - and probably also the secret of its extraordinary success. - The next performances are on 22 and 24 January, 2, 7, 15 and 21 February and 7 and 15 March.

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