Gioacchino Rossini (1792 – 1868)
Libretto by Cesare Sterbini after the comedy
by Pierre Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais
“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 great … Sonnyboy Dladla shines as Count Almaviva with a slender, clearly focused Rossini tenor, and Nina van Essen with her youthful, agile mezzo-soprano is an equally enchanting and assertive Rosina. The fact that one can hardly separate the singers’ voices from the character of the figures is a merit of Nicola Hümpel’s staging.”
“This is what triumph looks like!” was the headline in the Hannoversche Allgemeine Zeitung on the occasion of the premiere of the new production of Rossini’s opera buffa Il Barbiere di Siviglia in January 2020.Director Nicola Hümpel, head of the celebrated Berlin music theatre collective Nico and the Navigators, directs the focus on the ambivalences and dependencies of the characters, who encounter each other in the most absurd situations and constellations. Things go haywire on stage: Doctor Bartolo does everything he can to keep his ward, the young and wealthy Rosina, away from the world so that he can marry her and her fortune as quickly as possible. But Rosina proves to be extremely stubborn and is not very impressed when she learns of the wedding plans. She has already prepared a letter with which she wants to contact the mysterious, nocturnal suitor who wants to conquer her with the help of all kinds of tricks and masquerades. Figaro, local celebrity and hyperactive all-rounder, is ready to help at any time and to stage himself in the best possible way in front of the camera …
By means of two cameras that record details on stage and enlarge them on the screen, the audience is brought even closer to the stage action and the expressive performance of the singers. The camera allows the audience to see the comedic details even more sharply, as if with a magnifying glass. This type of production shows in a light-footed and poetic way how the big picture and the small detail, the comic and the cryptic are intertwined in Rossini’s musical theatre.
“Stage directions can also inspire. And how. Nicola Hümpel and her congenial set designer Oliver Proske prove it in a delightful way at the Hanover State Opera … The gesture vocabulary of each character is derived precisely from the very personal physicality of the individual singer-actors … The cinematic level sharpens the Chaplinesque precision. It brings even the most intimate emotions to light, revealing in unusual closeness what would otherwise remain hidden from us on the grand opera stage … But the most beautiful compliment that one has to pay to the production: The scene inspires the music, we hear again freshly and immediately how maximally inspired and humour-soaked this splendid score is.”
Scene directions from opera libretti are rarely high on the list of priorities for 21st century directorial teams. They seem rather to restrict the interpretive freedom that leads to contemporary views. But they can also inspire. And how. Nicola Hümpel and her congenial stage designer Oliver Proske prove it in a delightful way at the Staatsoper Hannover. Rosina's final abduction from the house of Doctor Bartolo via "la scala del balcone" only really works when both really exist. This is already the intention of the first scene by Cesare Sterbini, who in turn referred to Beaumarchais' comedy: In a piazza of Seville, we are supposed to catch sight of Bartolo's house at dawn - with a "practicable", that is to say: walkable balcony. The setting for Rossini's "Il barbiere di Siviglia" has looked like this or similar countless times. The director and her team acknowledge this, but avoid any danger of a dusty understanding of tradition in their concrete realization. For the constant cunning eavesdropping and spying, the opportunistic scheming and backstabbing of the characters also cries out for the erotic view through the keyhole, for quick changes of perspective - in short: for perfect comedy mechanics, which should appear improvisational, but must be absolutely perfectly timed. Through the use of the revolving stage, Rosina, Almaviva, Figaro and Bartolo constantly circle around each other and simultaneously around their own axis. The egocentricity, the narcissism, the search for advantage of all the protagonists is playfully revealed with ease; the desire and the very own interests of the personage never have to be questioned in an evaluative way. The spirit of commedia dell'arte unfolds with fundamental affection for all the characters' sensitivities and limitations. While Herbert Fritsch likes to use tempo-maximized over-excitement in Offenbach or Mozart, Nicola Hümpel listens much more sensitively to the pulse of the music in Rossini. The gestural vocabulary of each character is derived precisely from the very personal physicality of each singer-actor. Sunnyboy Dladla as Almaviva gets to languish in his performance cavatina "Ecco, ridente in cielo" with precisely exaggerated operatic gestures. The singer uses his tenore di grazia with delightful ease with the ideal dosage of sweet melting. Hubert Zapiór gives a gay barber Figaro who never falls into cheap cliché, but in witty agility and swagger of his knowledge overplays his own underdog complexes that plague him as a factotum in an academic society. His cavalier baritone has height, attack and eloquence. Beyond all bass buffo caricature, Frank Schneiders gives his antagonist Doctor Bartolo the features of a man broken in bitterness at an early age, who now takes out his disappointment on the Rosina entrusted to him with encroaching nastiness. Thanks to the self-determination of the true Commedia-Capricciosa Nina van Essen, a vamp of expansive soprano agility, this Bartolo, however, hardly stands a chance from the beginning. Figaro's emancipated sister in a shrewd spirit, who also raises the forbidden middle finger from time to time, would even almost start an affair with the barber, if he were not so clearly from the other side. In general, all possible and impossible pair-building variants are played out here with relish. The central means of the dramaturgical concept, which finds a subtle balance between ensemble racy and aria poetry, are the live video close-ups of the characters projected onto the back wall of the Palazzo, which reveals even the most inconspicuous eye blink to the audience. The cinematic level sharpens the Chaplinesque precision. It brings even the most intimate emotions to light, revealing in unusual proximity what would otherwise remain hidden from us on the grand opera stage. While in the first act we often find ourselves giving our eyes only to the video enlargement, the ensemble scenes of the second invite us to use the added value of both perspectives. Possibly the temporary renunciation of the medial doubling, especially in the sense of the unbroken emotional truth of the arias, would strengthen this fantastic evening even more. The most beautiful compliment, however, that must be paid to the production: The scene inspires the music; we hear again freshly and immediately how maximally inspired and humor-soaked this splendid score is. Eduardo Strausser conducts a bouncy, accented Rossini enriched with gallant pianissimi. At the fortepiano, Francesco Greco strikes sparks from the precisely crafted recitatives with improvisatory free spirit. Great!
“Entrusting this piece to a woman who deals a lot with music in her award-winning performances and installations was a good idea on the part of the Hanover State Opera. For Nicola Hümpel, founder of the group “Nico and the Navigators”, which has been successful for twenty years, avoids in her work, which was acclaimed with standing ovations, any attempt to be theoretical in any way.”
1816, the year of the premiere of Gioachino Rossini's "The Barber of Seville," was by no means a comfortable year, even in Rome. The Napoleonic wars were over, and the longing for peace and quiet was mingled with the censorious Restoration. Michael Talke offered a performance in Bremen four years ago in which he showed people in an unprecedented egoism and at the same time gave free rein to absurdity and comedy. Entrusting this piece to a woman who deals a lot with music in her award-winning performances and installations was a good idea on the part of the Hanover State Opera. For Nicola Hümpel, founder of the group "Nico and the Navigators", which has been successful for twenty years, avoids any attempt to be theoretical in her work, which received standing ovations. This may be regretted, but it sets up situations that are themselves very clear. The scenes are filmed and shown at the same time in huge enlargement of the faces above all. But what at first seems like a not particularly imaginative acting chamber play changes in the course of the performance to an ever increasing complexity of meanings. For the images in the background intertwine with the action in the foreground: when, for example, poor Rosina blurts out her rage against Bartolo in front of his outsize - a very small woman against a giant - suddenly a shattering image. Or when, in a sextet in the background, only Figaro and Almaviva can be seen as thread-pullers. And then suddenly images appear that very well tell of the loneliness of people, such as the thunderstorm music. It plays in front of rotating abstract forms and landscapes (stage by Oliver Proske), the people literally tumble in it: their "brain as a volcanic eruption" or "like a fire forge", as it says in the text. Or also a wonderful hopeful image: an incredible wind blows everyone into another, hopefully better time. That it all works so well is of course also and especially due to the musical performance: once you can see everything from the singing, the tongue, the saliva, the lower jaw, the dental fillings, but all the singers also offer excellent psychological studies in facial expressions. Nina van Essen, Sunnyboy Dladla and Hubert Zapiór are new in the ensemble: van Essen as Rosina is an ideal casting, Dladla as Almaviva offers throughout enchanting and infinitely funny lust for life and Zapiór as Figaro romps through the scene with an always also ironic - he has his likeness tattooed on his upper arm and sometimes kisses it - self-confidence and a ravishing singing. Frank Schneiders as Bartolo draws a sensitive uncertainty of life, Daniel Miroslaw as Basilio and Carmen Fuggiss as Berta complete the trio excellently. Everything is subject to the supple sovereignty of Eduardo Strausser's musical direction: he emphasizes all details with the State Orchestra, so that a brilliant accuracy is accompanied by an almost intoxicating lust for life. It didn't take a minute for the audience to stand.
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