Il barbiere di Siviglia - Royal Opera House, 18 January 2011 (first night)
As revivals go, this proved to be one of the better ones, though perhaps it was inevitable that the first night wouldn't quite live up to the promise of the bizarrely effective general-rehearsal-that-wasn't, not to mention the perfection of the previous revival.
With its claustrophobic sets and grotesquely caricatured oppressors, this production draws from the perspective of Rosina, the captive bird desperate to flee her cage. Aleksandra Kurzak was at her minxy best last night. The way she matched fioriture to text was uncannily musical, and it would take the mindset of a driving test examiner to carp at her few smudged or swallowed notes.
John Osborn recovered well from a rough start, looking (understandably) uncomfortable as he sang his first scene from the top of a distinctly wobbly tree. Tender and charming with Rosina, he coloured his line subtly to leave us in no doubt of Almaviva's essential selfishness and insincerity the moment she was gone.
If there's one thing previous revivals have suffered from, it's a surfeit of sugar-coated niceness. Here, Bruno Praticò's darkly-drawn Doctor Bartolo manages the quickfire patter with unerring skill, but at the same time you can imagine him beating Rosina when the visitors are gone. It's a masterpiece of character singing if hardly lovely on the ears.
The gigantic personality of Levente Molnár's Figaro fills the stage, but last night he hadn't quite worked the very specific gestures and movement demanded by the production into a naturalistic performance. The same was true to some extent of Ildar Abdrazakov's sinuously persuasive and most elegantly sung Don Basilio.
After a truly superb showing in the pit at the rehearsal, it was disappointing to hear so much tired and scrappy playing from the orchestra, not to mention a couple of occasions when Rory Macdonald dropped the ball and only just managed to scrape stage and pit back together again by the skin of his teeth.
I suspect those who have booked for later shows in the run will have made a wise choice.