Lilly Jorstad. Note the name. You’ll be hearing it more and more over the next few years. Lilly Jorstad is Rosina in La Scala’s Il barbiere di Siviglia yet she is just halfway through her course at La Scala’s Academy. She has a quicksilver coloratura, a natural rich mezzo colour, an attractive physical presence (huge smile; flashing eyes) and looks as though she’s been treading the boards at the world’s most famous theatre for years. An important young talent.
She was sharing the stage with other talents from the Academy, including the extremely interesting tenor, Edoardo Milletti who has a Florez-esque tone and vibrato with an easy top which is bright and secure. Giovanni Romeo as Bartolo, Kwanghyun Kim as Fiorello and Fatma Said who sang Berta’s aria with her confident sparkling soprano, were the other students in the cast.
However, this was no student production. Two opera giants were in the cast – both 73-years-old – and gave their younger colleagues a lesson in stage craft and vocal technique. I wish the Academy students the judgement necessary to manage their careers so that in half a century they too will still be able to sing as Leo Nucci and Ruggero Raimondi are doing today at La Scala.
Leo Nucci as Figaro darts around the stage like an impish teenager. From the centre of the stalls there was no difference between him and the twenty-somethings. In his first aria he whizzed down a sliding pole to reach his barber’s shop below; in the storm scene he leant a three-metre ladder against a wall, scrambled up and jumped through a first-floor window. Vocally he still ticks all the boxes: the speed of the coloratura (‘Bravo, bravissimo’!), intonation always spot-on, impressive breath control and potent top notes. Raimondi was a physically perfect Don Basilio: tall and drawn as though straight from the grave. He has incredible volume at the extremes of his voice, the only hint at wear and tear being a weaker middle zone and some difficulty keeping pace with the most rapid passages.
And rapid it was. Massimo Zanetti conducted the orchestra with an exciting verve which sent his impressive silver quiff in all directions.
The production is by Jean-Pierre Ponnelle which was created on Teresa Berganza, Hermann Prey and Luigi Alva in 1969 and, aside from an ill-judged new production at the end of the nineties (which was immediately scrapped) has been permanently in the repertoire. Justly so. It is perfect. The comedy is subtly handled, believable and unforced but also daring. During ‘Don Basilio! – Cosa veggo!’ Don Basilio is shown out of the door (‘Buona sera, mio signore’) before the end of the second act quintet; a twenty-second pause follows with the entire cast transfixed on the closed door as Basilio calmly finds his way back into the house, through an open gate, and booms out another ‘Buona sera’ behind their backs. A slightly arrogant approach to the score maybe, but it hardly disturbs the music (I mean, ‘Buona sera’ is sung a hundred times), it underlines what a bore Don Basilio is, and provides a sly comic moment. And while on comic moments, James Vaughan at the fortepiano is witty and cheeky, introducing an amusing wealth of musical references, with even a nod to the Pink Panther theme as Nucci tiptoed across the stage.
This Barber is part of La Scala’s programme for the Milan Expo and the largely non-Italian audience (Milan is on holiday!) lapped up such a generous dose of talent with long ovations for all. Ponnelle would have been satisfied to see his classic production in such capable hands.
Graham Spicer is a writer, director and photographer in Milan, blogging (under the name ‘Gramilano’) about dance, opera, music and photography for people “who are a bit like me and like some of the things I like”. He was a regular columnist for Opera Now magazine and wrote for the BBC until transferring to Italy.
His scribblings have appeared in various publications from Woman’s Weekly to Gay Times, and he wrote the ‘Danza in Italia’ column for Dancing Times magazine.