‘The Barber of Seville’: A Heckuva Night at the T.A. Opera

When I saw a mule on stage in the opening moments of ‘The Barber of Seville,’ I knew I was in for quite a ride. Rossini’s splendid music achieved a respectable draw with the nonstop action

Michael Handelzalts
Michael Handelzalts
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From the Deutsche Oper Berlin production of "The Barber of Seville." Splendid music also.Credit: Yossi Zwecker
Michael Handelzalts
Michael Handelzalts

A ship, a mule led by a monk, five nuns, two bicycles, an electric scooter, a bright purple vintage car, a green tractor toting a huge shipping container – and that’s just the start of “The Barber of Seville” in the Deutsche Oper Berlin production opening the 30th season of the Israeli Opera. Yes, right from the start you know you’re in for a heckuva night of theater.

The director is Katharina Talbach, and the giant container remains planted in the middle of the stage, obscuring much of the picturesque façade of houses (set design by Momme Rohrbein). The front of it opens up and converts into a carnival stage, with a screen behind and scenery in front, and this is where the action in the home of Doctor Bartolo takes place, into which Count Almaviva keeps showing up in different costumes in the hope of winning the heart of Countess Rosina. Why this stage appears to be set up before frolicking beachgoers, including some children, isn’t all that clear to me. I suspect it’s part of the “why not?” school of directing.

The director misses no opportunity to amuse the audience, and so Rosina’s laundry list is recited to the crowd in Hebrew, and in the street there’s a demonstration with Hebrew placards calling for “Zero VAT” and “No More Violence.” Some of the music is accompanied by contemporary dance movements, and the viewer is also led to understand that Rosina’s coloratura trills are a direct result of the actions of Almaviva’s head – which is between her legs, beneath her skirts. And the mule and the monk make repeated appearances at the side of the stage.

So much is happening on this stage, which is also quite cramped, due to the container stuck in the center. There’s never a dull moment, and so the poor brain is dazed and confused, as Israel Ouval translated one of the lines in the subtitles. Luckily, in addition to all this there is Rossini’s splendid music, which consists of one operatic hit after another (five in a row in the first act alone) and is also full of humor.

My music critic colleagues could more seriously evaluate the singers’ voices. To me they sounded nimble and pliant, including the somewhat dark shade of Annalisa Stroppa in the role of Rosina. Edgardo Rocha was Count Almaviva and Mario Cassi was Figaro, and love won out in the end. Much effort has been invested to keep the viewer’s eye engaged, and I think the music achieved a respectable draw with all the nonstop action on stage.