DVD:  Gioacchino Rossini's Il Barbiere di Siviglia


David Malis
Jennifer Larmore
Richard Croft
Simone Alaimo
Renato Capecchi
Leonie Schoon
Roger Smeets
Chorus of THE NETHERLANDS OPERA, Chorus Master: Winifried Maczewski
(Critical edition by the Conductor)
Stage Director and Designer. DARIO FO
Sung in Italian with English subtitles


Quite good! Richard Croft exhibits a lovely tenor voice that is both expressive and can handle all the coloratura this opera demands, especially in this critical edition by maestro Zedda. Although he is not quite as charismatic as his baritone brother, I can hear no reason why they are not singing together at the Metropolitan Opera. His voice seems to have the “ping” necessary to carry it to the far reaches of our opera house, unless the recording process has made it sound larger than it is. This is unlikely, however, since his voice balances well with the others in the production. But we’ll never be able to tell until we hear him in person, will we?

David Malis did everything he was supposed to do as Figaro . . . and did it quite well. He was, however, quite young at the time, and lacked the kind of bluster many of us are accustomed to in the role (p.e. Nucci with Battle and Blake on the Met video, or even Merrill with Peters and Valetti on records only). I had never heard of him before purchasing this DVD*, so I looked him up in Operabase online and found that, in the past two years, he has done Marcello, Silvio, Papageno, Carlo Gérard and Ford at such places as Rio de Janeiro, Atlanta, New Orleans, Madrid, and San Diego. Since this performance was done nine years ago, I hope he has sung more than that in the past two years.

What can I say about Jennifer Larmore that has not already been said about this fine-looking and highly talented mezzo-soprano with a fabulous technique and a beautiful voice? I don’t think she had yet made it to the “big time” in 1992, but was well on her way. I’ve only been fortunate enough to hear her in the title role of Giulio Cesare at the Met last season, and was floored by that performance; and her duet album with Hong is one of my current favorites.

Seeing and hearing a performance with veteran Renato Capecchi is a great treat for me. I have him in the title role of an old Rigoletto on LP with Richard Tucker and Gianna D’Angelo (perhaps the most perfect Gilda I have ever heard). The recording must be at least 35 or 40 years old, and the man is still singing. His Bartolo was utter perfection—different from the rotund character to whom I am accustomed (starting with Fernando Corena)—and it was obvious that this trooper was clearly enjoying himself while providing us with a terrific performance, both sung and acted.

Simone Alaimo’s Basilio just did not communicate at all, at least to me. Despite the fact that this is a great comedy, I expect someone insidious who can still make us laugh—someone extremely tall and thin, almost like a ghost. In this role I think of a Siepi, a Ramey, or even a Furlanetto—someone who can really make the Calumnia aria almost scary, in a mysterious and funny way. This endomorphic Basilio with spiked hairdo merely conveyed the character’s selfish, grasping, and opportunistic traits. Oh, his voice was perfectly appropriate for the role, but not quite good enough to overcome the interpretation.

Now, we come to the two local singers in the comprimario roles: Leonie Schoon portrayed a rather younger Berta than we usually see, and a much more talented one with much more coloratura in her single aria than we usually hear—thanks to maestro Zedda. Furthermore, she displayed the appropriate embonpoint for a stereotypical maid/cook/housekeeper. Roger Smeets gave us a lusty-voiced Fiorello, totally in control of his healthy baritone voice and his acting. I somehow suspect that Schoon and especially Smeets would sing Rosina and Figaro when the company did not have out-of-town guests to celebrate Rossini’s 200th birthday.


Boy, have I been avoiding this! About 25 or 30 years ago, I read about innovative and creative acting and production skills of Dario Fo. At the time I thought how much I would like to experience that. I did on this DVD and my reaction is: fuhgedaboudit! First of all, he sets the opera during Carnival (I do not know which feast for whom). To that end, he has lots of dancers dressed as commedia dell’arte characters—including a two-man horse--running around, doing cartwheels and silly dances, spreading sheets, wrapping people in sheets, unwrapping long scrolls with words on them during arias and holding them up for the audience to see, and generally getting in the way. This starts with the overture—which is completely choreographed—and continues throughout the entire opera.
At times, the principal singers have to perform while being pushed back and forth on moving platforms with and without canopies. During some of Rosina’s arias and duets, Fo has her make voguing motions with her arms (Figaro, too, behind her!). There is a swing in Bartolo’s parlor and both Figaro and Rosina make use of it (separately, I am pleased to state). Rosina’s first dress, with a princess waist, looks like it came out of a painting by Ingres. Isn’t that 19th Century? Doesn’t the opera take place in the 18th Century. Some of her other costumes, in deep, rich reds and greens, in satin and velvet, seem too old for a Rosina, and more fitting for a matron or a courtesan. After all, she should be only somewhere between 17 and 20 (I think).

The men’s costumes were generally fine, but I really found the commedia dell’arte costumes and masks garish and intrusive. Basilio almost looked like a buffoon.

I must have grown even more conservative in my sixth decade. If I were in charge of putting on an opera, I would NEVER EVEN CONSIDER Dario Fo to be part of the creative team!

One last comment about this DVD: It is the ONLY DVD I’ve heard in which the sound occasionally comes across as cramped and the singers’ sibilants sometimes come out with static.

I would never purchase this DVD as my first or only video version of the opera. If I had to have only one version, I would consider the Metropolitan Opera video with Kathleen Battle, Leo Nucci, and Rockwell Blake, if it is available commercially. This DVD version, however, is worthwhile as a second one, basically for the performances of Larmore, Croft and Capecchi.

Howard in Brooklyn

*Editor's Note:  DVD...Digital Video Disc, a digitally recorded disc capable of carrying immense amounts of video and audio information. Replaces the now defunct (and beloved) laser disc as the best medium for audio and video fidelity. Played in a stand-alone DVD player, which also plays audio CDs, or in a computer DVD drive, which also plays audio CDs and CD-ROMs. Costing $20@ and up for opera and movie performances. Few of the former to be found as yet but over 3000 of the latter already available. Has capability of carrying subtitles in several different languages, instant track or scene access and additional material, usually in the form of alternative versions, production notes or cast profiles.

Literary content:
Copyright:  © 1999 Howard Levin

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