Now, here’s a unicorn for you: a production of Il Barbiere di Siviglia a half-century old, Italianate and balletic, still as fresh as on its first night. And to think it originated deep in the Cold War, behind the Wall in East Berlin. The director, long deceased, was Ruth Berghaus, a Marxist and torch-bearing Brechtian who started out as a choreographer. The sets and costumes are by the theatrical polymath Achim Freyer, his first for an opera. Now well into his 80s, Freyer is still very much with us, and best known for his later head trips on a Promethean scale.
As seen last May at the sold-out Staatsoper Unter den Linden, abuzz with Berliners of all ages, this production of Rossini’s indestructible trifle unfolds in a big white box. Scene to scene, only the odd pencil sketch on muslin tells us where in Seville we are. The players pop like paper dolls, smart in silver-sequined snow-white satin or basic-black broadcloth or in brocades in hues stolen from a peacock, all gamboling through their intrigues like stars of the commedia dell’arte.