Vicious-comic Barber at Dutch Reisopera

Il Barbiere di Siviglia, an opera buffa in two acts by Gioachino Rossini from 1815. Libretto by Cesare Sterbini, after Le Barbier de Séville by Beaumarchais. First performance at the Teatro Argentina, Rome, on 20 February 1816. Attended performance: 28 September 2019, De Nederlandse Reisopera, Enschedé. Premiere of a retake from 2013.

Il Conte Almaviva: Mark Milhofer
Dottore Bartolo: Bruno Pratico
Rosina: Karin Strobos
Figaro: German Olvera
Don Basilio: Nicholas Crawley
Fiorello / Un ufficiale: Pablo Aranday
Berta: Ruth Willemse
Berta: Caroline Cartens
Berta: Zinzi Frohwein
Un notaio: Martin Ottow

Orchestra: Noord Nederlands Orkest
Choir: Consensus Vocalis

Conductor: George Petrou
Regie: Laurence Dale



We are not great fans of comic operas, whether they are written by Mozart, Rossini or Donizetti. When faint-heartedness, which is at best a smile, gets into the hands of so-called “ground-breaking” directors (think: masturbation, mobile phones, pink cars, tablets, rapes and laptops), then the almost strangling clichés get stuck in our throats. People yearn to wash that same throat with a Pilsner Urquell, but a look at the watch painfully makes us realize: more than an hour of this discomfort to go! Agreed, even Tommy Cooper could not have improved on Dutch director Lotte de Beer, who connected the Barber with the horrors of the French Revolution. There you have a point.

However, we did visit the retake of Il Barbiere di Siviglia by the Dutch Reisopera. For a shocking reason. Hold on! Because of the director! Opera Gazet and more specifically your reviewer have the reputation of being very conservative. Admittedly, we are an enthusiastic fan of the Facebook site Against Modern Opera Productions, but although we have reached that stage of life where people refer to us as fossils, we think we can distinguish quality from absurdity in an astute way. And the price we pay is that we are discriminated against by the Dutch National Opera, because we are underprivileged compared to our colleagues, who do not deign to engage in “obscene journalism” and stay neatly within the lines drawn by the Dutch capital city’s opera house.

So, yes, because of the director, Laurence Dale in this case. We have already attended several of his productions with great enthusiasm. Dale is (has been) a singer himself, and once sang a respectable Almaviva, among other things, and he has proven that this background is much more preferable to that of an upgraded play director.  We also have the strong impression that there is a positive correlation between “ex-opera singer as director” and “quality of production”. Not entirely illogical, even ex-soccer players are often the better soccer coaches. Laurence Dale is a “modern” director, and while avoiding any kind of “old-fashionedness” (a reproach that is always on the tongue of Today’s People) his contemporary, beautiful directions are always dominated by the work, the composer and librettist himself instead of presenting his audience with egocentric and insulting nonsensical humbug à la Konwitschny and Bieto.

The Greek principles

Although a  pot-smoking Count Almaviva and a Barber on a scooter are not really necessary for us, this Barber was unmistakably sparkling and witty, and above all very colourful, in a literal sense. We particularly liked the black-humoristic moments: Basilio and Bartolo, who appeared to cherish a common hobby in the Greek principles, a Figaro who seemed perfectly prepared to kill one or the other with his razor and cut Bartolo’s transfusion tube with it. And Rosina, who feigns pregnancy, and aborts “the child” (a pillow) single-handedly and swings it into a corner of the stage. In this way you transform the faintness into a fine example of “black humour”, much better to digest than the commedia dell’arte silly jokes of Dario Fo who, because of his “salary demands” (read: excessive and happily paid fee), brought the Dutch National Opera to the brink of financial ruin in 2000. Nowadays, it is the lawyer’s fees that, as a consequence of stubborn insistence on pitying pettiness, weigh on the budget.

A considerable number of soloists from the 2013 production made their appearance again. Mark Milhofer (Almaviva), Bruno Practico (Bartolo), Karin Strobos (Rosina), Nicholas Crawley (Basilico), Ruth Willemse (Berta 1) and Zinzi Frohwein (Berta 2), they were all there in 2013. Tenor Milhofer is a regular Wizard of Oz with notes. The fast high notes were catapulted into the hall with seemingly astonishing ease. Of the same very high level was Karin Strobos, who gave us an unbeatable Rosina. What a beautiful, rich voice. To the disappointment of many, Peter Bording was absent although in 2013 he was widely praised as Figaro. During the afterparty I put the question to the press representative, but she “wasn’t going to say anything about it”. Maybe Nicolas Mansfield will be able to give us an update on this?

A few more words, because he deserves it, about the phenomenal “Rossini-tenor”, although I always find such a term somewhat derogatory: of course, Milhofer’s talent is not limited to Rossini roles. “Litheness of voice” is an understatement here, and with what seemingly (with the emphasis on seemingly) ease Milhofer manages the stimmlich most breakneck tours! Amazing. In addition, he is also a great comic talent: the drawling timbre with which he portrays the stoned Almaviva was hilariously comical, as was the way in which he gave the Rossini coloratura a fine, relativizing comic note (no pun intended), without falling into the trap of exaggerating. Milhofer was magnificent! Fan club, please.

The North Netherlands Orchestra conducted by George Petrou, who gave the soloists all the space they needed, stood out for its neatly dosed dynamic and rich palette of orchestral colours. Still, I had expected something spicier, especially with this direction. An extra touch of Harnoncourt flavour enhancer would have helped the musical recipe.

The Dutch Reisopera did well to reprise this Barber. Fine performance.


Olivier Keegel
(Published on 1 October 2019)

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Olivier Keegel


Chief Editor since 2019. Does not need much more than Verdi, Bellini and Donizetti. Wishes to resuscitate Tito Schipa and Fritz Wunderlich. Certified unmasker of directors' humbug.

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