Cher Public


This cozy DVD of Il Barbiere di Siviglia was recently re-released and will be of interest to those who are only familiar with Cecilia Bartoli‘s work after she became an international star. The Bartoli who hand-picks somewhat arcane personal projects, restricts her operatic staged appearances, and marches to the beat of her own drum with her vocal idiosyncrasies is not the Cecilia Bartoli of this charming, if rather conventional and unadventurous video.  

This video was filmed in 1988 at the Schwetzinger Festspiele and Bartoli both in looks and voice resembles any host of up-and-coming lyric mezzos who are usually tapped to sing Rosina. Her timbre has its trademark dusky warmth, and her stage persona is spirited and lively. But the ornamentations for “Una voce poco fa” and “Contro un cor” are “classic” and more subdued than what we might expect of Bartoli today were she to revisit Rossini.

The dazzling vocal fireworks that are now a trademark of her sold-out recitals are notably missing here. Her coloratura has some of the relentless aspiration that would drive some opera fans nuts but vocal mannerisms are somehow never as distracting when a singer is younger. Her top is bright and ringing, and her lower register rich and organ-like, and her voice is a smooth column of sound. This is a lovely, straightforward, rendition of a touchstone role. It’s just doest have the pizzazz of a typical CECILIA BARTOLI, VOCAL SUPERSTAR project.

The rest of the cast is solid, if not spectacular. Some of the usual cuts are made, including “Cessa di piu resistere.” David Kuebler has an attractive lyric tenor voice but lacks the kind of oily charm that’s usually associated with this role. “Ecco ridente” has some nice legato singing. Those looking for the high options that Juan Diego Florez or Lawrence Brownlee would take today will be disappointed. More troublesome is Kuebler’s rather dour acting. He does the usual schtick but without much humor or joy.

Gino Quilico is yet another professional but rather forgettable Figaro. I’m starting to think that it’s hard to really make an impact as Figaro—after “Largo al factotum” the character is basically on the sidelines. I’ve seen many, many performances of Barbiere and really can’t recall one performance where I thought the Figaro stole the show.

The poorest performance comes from Carlos Feller as Bartolo. He has some good comic timing but he absolutely cannot handle the vocal challenges of his aria “A un dottor”—he runs out of breath, makes absolutely mush of the patter, and it’s really very undistinguished. Robert Lloyd, on the other hand, is vocally excellent in “La calunnia” and a fun stage presence.

Gabriele Ferro‘s leadership from the pit is a plus—he’s spirited and lively and really captures the rhythmic acceleration of Rossini’s music.

This Seville is visually drab and lacks the intimacy we’d usually associate with a small theater. The small stage is dominated first by a dark, weirdly eery version of a “Seville street in the nighttime” and then by a very grayish unit set of Bartolo’s home. Everything from the sets to the costumes are in rather dark hues, as if they decided to borrow from a Don Giovanni production. Even Bartoli is dressed in a rather frumpy wig and dress.

The director Michael Hampe seems to have gotten a Cliff Notes version of “classic Barber of Seville stage schtick” and directed the cast to follow it without much imagination. On the one hand, this is good if you are tired of the frantic mugging and stage business that directors often cram into contemporary “Barbiere” productions. On the other hand, it’s kind of like … a Bartolo who is OCD about the locks on his house and people sneezing throughout the opera. Haven’t we seen this too many times?

  • La Valkyrietta

    I remember the Bartoli of twenty or so years ago that was more visible in New York, but I don’t think I ever took a look at this DVD. You seem to like it and from your review it sounds like something I would want to watch one day. I always enjoy Cecilia very much.

    The ‘Barber’ always reminds me of Rossini, of course, and his earning in London the first time he went there, in four months, more than what he earned in ten years in Italy, composing almost everything. They would pay him in London for concerts more than they would pay him in Italy for composing operas, and in London he would play at the piano and sing “Largo al factotum”, for a hefty sum. Rossini had a nice baritone voice, they say. He was offered a small fortune for performing the role on stage at the King’s theatre, but he drew the line there. Then he moved to Paris and the rest is…tournedos Rossini. :)

    Everyone, in some small sacred sanctuary of the self, is nuts. -Leo Rosten, author (1908-1997). That is the phrase today of “a word a day”.

    Thanks for your very nice review, be good.

    • semira mide

      Tournedos = Le Siege de Corinte, Il Viaggio a Reims, Le Comte Ory, Moise et Pharon,and Guillaume Tell.

  • 98rsd

    You clearly didn’t see Herman Prey, who sang Figaro like a god.

    • danpatter

      I agree.

  • Since this thread is shorter I’ll just say I was stunned at how many people posted on the other thread and I read every comment. I am still speechless. If the whole world was as caring and intelligent as parterre I wouldn’t be feeling the way I am feeling.

    I decided however to delete my blog, Facebook and twitter last night. I want to keep a lower profile now. I am however grateful for everyone who wrote to me.

    • bluecabochon

      Ivy, it’s wonderful to hear from you again and to read your review. Understandable that you are taking back your privacy and thinking about things. Please let us know how you are doing and good luck this week. :)

    • rapt

      Ivy, how kind and courageous of you to write this note. I’m one of many, I’m sure, who didn’t contribute to the thread for fear of having nothing of equal eloquence to add--but who have had you strongly on their mind nevertheless. It’s kind of you to allay our fears, courageous of you both to be open to ideas from outside the circle of your thoughts and also (though this is characteristic of your honesty) to acknowledge that vulnerability (rather than retreating into the defensiveness of it’s-my-position-because-it’s-my-position). These traits further help allay my fears for you, and encourage my hopes. All the best!

    • I am glad to hear you are doing better, however minute the difference is. You know we care about you when we all agreed with the wisdom of Basso and Gevevive’s words (and they are).

      I hope things turn better than expected for you and that we will enjoy your presence here and elsewhere for many more years to come. Hugs to you.

  • Also, comparison of Bartoli “Una voce poco fa”‘s:

    The later version has the “Malibran” ornaments but I find the idiosyncratic rhythms off-putting. Her voice has this breathiness that I also don’t really like. The machine-gun coloratura feels very, well, machine-gunned.

    • The Malibran ornaments are quite interesting and the ending took me by surprise. But I don’t like the fussiness of her singing in the second clip — too much swallowed sound, too much manipulation of the sound rather than just pouring it out like she does in the first clip.

  • adina

    Ah, yes, “Una voce poco fa.” Thanks for the two Bartoli comparisons. I can see how people can appreciate her artistry, but I never really took a liking to her vocal production or mannerisms.

    I did my own little comparison, and the ones I liked were Callas and Horne of the “old days,” and Elina Garanca of today’s singers.

    What I personally like about Marilyn Horne, for lack of a better way to express it, is her beauty of tone and legato phrasing within the coloratura passages. Hers is a voice I could listen to for hours.

    Are there some favorite renditions that anyone would like post for me. Thanks.


    • Here’s a comparison of two very old-school “Una voce poco fa”;s”

      Very similar approaches (extravagantly decorated), but I like Tetrazzini’s version so much more. I don’t know, it just seems so much more modern — the warmer timbre, the staccato, the ornamentations that move along with the music instead of stopping it outright (the way Sembrich’s do).

      • I also prefer Tetrazzini. I like her tone, the smoothness of her runs (the very opposite of Bartoli’s aspiration) and those brilliant staccatos. But there’s also a lot of personality that comes through on the recording.

        Sembrich’s ornamentura sounds spastic to me.

        • I have a hard time with a lot of Sembrich’s recordings. The reviews of her opera performances praised her for her musicianship and taste, but on recordings her tone sounds shrill and hooty, her ornamentations “spastic” as you put it, and she’s rather charmless. I guess you had to be there.

          I also love the warmth of Tetrazzini’s timbre and those staccato, and what an awesome ability to trill above the staff!

          Here’s another Tetrazzini classic:

          • Rory Williams

            Plus not to be rude (yet again), doesn’t Sembrich have a faint air of sight-reading? I admit her personal timbre was clearly less phonogenic than Tetrazzini’s, but that’s not all of it. Tetrazzini seems, not just a marvel as a voice, but the embodiment of fun! Seriously, who would you rather? She overloads the recording equipment all the time, but I think I can “hear” her in a way I can’t “hear” Sembrich. Can’t believe you uploaded these Tet excerpts. I just discovered her (I’m slow). She is so wonderful (plus, a fountain in San Fran? Who could ask for anything more!)

          • manou

            “Who could ask for anything more” -- chicken?

          • I think to be fair Tet probably had a naturally easier timbre to record in those times — Sembrich’s timbre if I had to guess would be described as “cool” or “silvery” today, whereas warmer, rounder voices like Tet can overcome the dry, distant acoustic. But I agree that Tet is one of the few early recording artists who sounds like she’s having tons of fun, and this joie de vivre was apparently one reason she was a hit onstage despite her appearance (even then, critics pointed out that she hardly looked the part of Violetta). Her singing just has this vibrancy to it that jumps out of the recording horn.

            Tet could also be quite lyrical:

        • messa di voce


          “The most exceptional vocalists that I ever heard were Francesco Tamagno, Luisa Tetrazzini, Tita Ruffo, and Enrico Caruso. Many others had beautiful voices, but they couldn’t be considered particularly exceptional.”

      • Donna Anna

        Thanks so much for posting these. Tetrazzini is flat out amazing: totally in control, seamless phrasing and every word is articulated seemingly with no effort. Wow. For an old-school recording, the fidelity is not at all shabby. The footage is wonderful, too. She obviously reveled in singing, she was comfortable in her sizable skin, and had the career she deserved. Indeed, who could ask for anything more, even if it is chicken.

    • luvtennis

      Roberta Peters recording on RCA with Merrill and Valetti is marvelous in a high soprano way.

      BTW, am I the only person who feels that there is no longer any excuse to perform Barber without Cessa Piu Resistere. A modern recording without it is completely uncompetitive.

      • luvtennis

  • adina

    Thanks for the old school samples. Yes, I like the Tetrazzini. On the video footage, I thought I spotted her fancying a canary, which reminded me of Galli-Curci. She also has that smooth phrasing. (Help me with the video, if it doesn’t appear. I’ve had problems with that before.)


  • La Valkyrietta

    I liked all the clips, thank you. The sound engineering on the last one was not too good, I thought. I like the two Bartoli versions as different as they are.

    My favorite version is Callas’. It was the first one I heard. I know the role is for mezzos, but the Callas rendition is so exquisite, and her “ma” reminds me of my falling in love with opera long ago. I saw Horne live, of course, and she was wonderful. I like Garanca too but unfortunately I have not seen her live in this role, I wish I had.

    I wish we could have youtube clips of Geltrude Righetti, the original, and Isabella Colbran, the wife, to compare, but all we can see of them is their images.

    To fill Adina’s request, one of my very favorites, La Berganza!

  • Podlesmania

    Ewa certainly listened to Callas’ “ma”!

    and to contribute to the comparison of voices at different ages… what about Podle? at 25 singing Nacqui all’affano:

  • Lady Abbado

    Here’s a nice video comparing several renditions of Una voce poco fa -- some by sopranos, some by mezzos.

  • La Valkyrietta

    Maria. I’ll never stop playing Maria…the most beautiful sound I ever heard, Mariiiiiiiia,