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This leaves something of a vacuum in the production and Caurier and Leiser fill it with comic routines; physical comedy rather than the comedy of situation and character. The result is undeniably funny, Caurier and Leiser are gifted stage craftsmen, but the antics on-stage did not always bear a close relationship to the plot of the opera and the situation of the characters.

It helped that the stage looked good, with the stunning Mediterranean colours of set designer Christian Fenouillat and 50s style costumes by Agostino Calvaca. But the biggest draw of the evening was undoubtedly the singing of the fine cast. Though Cecilia Bartoli was the primary draw, in the role of Fiorilla, she did not play the diva too much and simply took her part in what was a strong ensemble cast. As her put-upon husband, Geronio, Alessandro Corbelli, was quite simply superb. He managed to imbue even the most banal of stage situations with a pathos which added depth to his character. Ildebrando D'Arcangelo made Selim a suitably handsome Turk, by turns entranced and befuddled by Bartoli's Fiorilla. Barry Banks was Fiorilla's ex toy-boy Don Narciso and it says much for Banks's stage aplomb that he managed to overcome the twin drawbacks of a recalcitrant Vespa scooter and a hideous teddy-boy quiff which were wished on him by the designers. Heather Shipp was exemplary in the secondary female role of Zaide, Selim's first love.

Ildebrando d'Arcangelo as Selim. Photo © Catherine Ashmore
Ildebrando d'Arcangelo as Selim. Photo © Catherine Ashmore

The role of Fiorilla lies a little high for Bartoli, but it is a role that she has recorded and sung before. The rather unsavoury, minx-ish character suits her stage persona and she came over wonderfully as a pocket Venus. But, musically her style might not be to everyone's taste. Inevitably she has to sing the role rather lightly, given its high tessitura. This, combined with her very distinctive way with fioriture meant that Fiorilla was imbued with a sound very particular to Bartoli. Whilst I have not always appreciated the sound of her voice on her recent discs, there is no denying her virtuosity and musicianship. Live, she is simply entrancing.

Cecilia Bartoli as Fiorilla. Photo © Catherine Ashmore
Cecilia Bartoli as Fiorilla. Photo © Catherine Ashmore

The cast were well supported by the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House conducted by Adam Fischer. Fischer gave is a fleet, light musical interpretation which was well in tune with the performances of his singers.

As ever with Leiser and Caurier, transport played a strong role in the staging. Not only did we have the aforementioned Vespa, but there was also an Alfa Romeo and a Fiat Cinquecento. These added much to the period feel, but I have it on good authority that neither model was quite correct for the period; it seems a little more research should have been done.

This was a highly enjoyable evening which could have been so much more, if only the producers had trusted Rossini and his librettist, Felice Romani, a little more.

Copyright © 7 June 2005 Robert Hugill, London UK



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