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 Recording of the Week  Rossini: Il barbiere di Siviglia and Joyce DiDonato

The Royal Opera House’s performances of Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia last summer occupied international headlines for two reasons – firstly it was arguably one of the strongest line-ups of singers and conductor one could imagine for the opera, and secondly the leading lady (Joyce DiDonato) fell and injured her foot about a third of the way through the opening night. She dutifully soldiered on (with the help of a crutch) assuming it was just sprained. After the performance (and a standing ovation) an x-ray revealed that it wasn’t sprained, but broken, and it would be in plaster for the next six weeks! Virgin Classics were due to record the second night for release on DVD and that DVD is released today.

Joyce DiDonato
Joyce DiDonato

But rather than withdrawing from the show, DiDonato insisted that she would carry on with the run, and so with the combination of a bright pink plaster cast and a wheelchair whizzing around the stage, one of the most remarkable productions of the opera ever unfolded. All the cast had to make dramatic changes to what they had spent the previous six weeks rehearsing in order to accommodate the wheelchair and they improvised with impressive spontaneity. An indication of just how improvised it was is apparent before the opera even started with conductor Antonio Pappano explaining to the audience what was going to happen and finishing his speech with “It is going to be a very interesting night and I for one cannot wait to see it”!

As DiDonato pointed out afterwards, her predicament is actually quite fitting for her character, who is supposed to be imprisoned at home: “being trapped in the wheelchair was a quite literal way of demonstrating Rosina's frustration and huge desire to break free”. DiDonato is superb throughout, singing with ease on the high notes and with impressive technique in the faster passages. What comes across above all though is her ability to balance precision and emotion perfectly in order to produce a thoroughly convincing performance. Rest assured though this isn’t just a one-woman show: Juan Diego Flórez lives up to his reputation as the world’s top bel canto tenor with amazing runs and effortless top notes; Pietro Spagnoli delivers Figaro’s arias with a meaty tone but still plenty of panache; while the rest of the cast are equally impressive both in voice and in particular the comic characterisation of their roles.

I can’t remember the last time I enjoyed a DVD as much as this and if the Royal Opera House ever revive this production it will seem quite odd if Joyce DiDonato isn’t in a wheelchair! The DVD also includes bonus interviews with Joyce DiDonato, Juan Diego Flórez, Antonio Pappano, and Moshe Leiser and Patrice Caurier (the directors). I’ve given you a link to a video trailer which tells you a bit more and gives you a few extracts. Enjoy!

Rossini: Il barbiere di Siviglia

Changhan Lim (Fiorello), Juan Diego Flórez (Count Almaviva), Joyce DiDonato (Rosina), Pietro Spagnoli (Figaro), Orchestra & Chorus of The Royal Opera House, Antonio Pappano

Available Format: DVD Video