In his opening-night review, Tim Ashley of The Guardian wrote that the production of Rossini's classic "boasts the most extraordinary cast to be heard in the piece for some time, and also, it would seem, one of the most accident-prone." Indeed this would appear to be an apt description. Tenor Juan Diego Fl‹rez narrowly avoided being taken down by an errant piano lid late in the evening‹ and he was the lucky one.
Celebrated mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato stumbled while crossing the stage early in the show, sparking an immediate and intense pain in her ankle area. The damage was announced as a sprain and, in true professional fashion, she finished the performance on a crutch- even decorating it with a flower and using it as a prop during her angrier scenes.
It was later discovered that she had in fact broken her fibula and, for the time being, is stuck in a wheelchair. Determined to fulfill her commitment, the Kansas native will continue with the production, singing Rosina from a sitting position and wearing a vaguely concealed cast. DiDonato, taking on the challenge with a smile and a shrug, posted an optimistic blog entry today mentioning Bette Midler's chair-propelled mermaid character Delores Delago. "I figure, let's give it a shot as well," she writes. "Of course, three hard weeks of intense staging rehearsals go right down the drain!" At press time, she hopes to graduate to crutches or her own two feet by the end of the run.
Painful injuries and last minute adaptations aside, the production has received glowing reviews for its stars. Bloomberg News wrote that Fl‹rez - in the Olympian role of Count Almaviva - threatened to steal the show, as is his wont in recent years. Warwick Thompson gave a deserved tip of the hat to the fact that "he included the fiendishly fast and high aria 'Cessa di piu resistere.' A graveyard for tenors, the aria's often cut because it's too difficult. Florez sailed through it without breaking sweat. Just when it seemed he couldn't take his liquid-gold voice any faster or higher, he would smile and pop out another stratospheric trill. The applause was so long that baritone Alessandro Corbelli got a laugh by pointedly looking at his watch."
Corbelli also received positive notices for his portrayal of the cranky Bartolo, as did Feruccio Furlanetto for his Basilio.
Also featured in the production, conducted by Antonio Pappano, are Pietro Spagnoli as Figaro (gallantly filling in for vocally-recuperating Simon Keenlyside), Changhan Lim as Fiorello and Jennifer Rhys-Davies as Berta.
Il barbiere di Siviglia will perform in repertory through July 18. Though tickets are increasingly hard to come by, the show will be broadcast to outdoor screens around the U.K. on July 15, a performance for which DiDonato hopes to at least be standing upright.
NOTE: Juan Diego Fl‹rez's only remaining performances are July 10 and 15. On July 13 and 18 Count Almaviva will be sung by South African tenor Colin Lee, a veteran to the piece who has previously performed the role with Vienna State Opera, Opera de Paris, Welsh National Opera and English National Opera.
For ticket and further schedule information, visit Royal Opera House.
Here is a look at the production pre-accident:
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All photos by Bill Cooper.