There were tears all round when Simon Keenlyside pulled out of the Royal Opera House's forthcoming Il barbiere di Siviglia. But on the showing of today's dress rehearsal, I don't think many will be disappointed by his replacement, Pietro Spagnoli.
His Figaro is a broad-brush portrayal, in keeping with Leiser and Caurier's cartoony production. Spagnoli is a generous performer with a big voice and great comic timing. He's a less than central presence most of the time, but who wouldn't be when sharing the stage with Joyce DiDonato, Juan Diego Flórez, Alessandro Corbelli and the great Ferruccio Furlanetto (an alarmingly creepy Don Basilio)? All on top form I should add.
JDF especially. His singing has a range of colour and expression I haven't heard from him before - if he can manage another Cessa di più resistere like today's, he won't be allowed home without an encore. And he has blossomed into a fine comic actor, at last playing to his colleagues instead of the audience. He didn't put a foot wrong. His drunken soldier and upright singing teacher were beautifully detailed.
Detail was a hallmark of the production this time round. Leiser and Caurier have clearly thought and rehearsed every move through. Comedy needs serious preparation. I seem to recall a few longueurs and some over-the-top caricaturing when this production first appeared. All gone. It is simply funnier than it has any right to be.
Pappano, playing the harpsichord continuo as well as conducting, is completely on their wavelength - light, nuanced, alert.
Even better than La traviata. Yes, really.