Apollon Festival Opera, Military Cultural Center (Tirana)

Rossini, Barbiere di Siviglia

Just when I thought I would not get to hear any live performances this summer, then the Italian Cultural Institute of Tirana decided to sponsor a performance of Rossini’Barber of Seville.  The production is actually due to debut tomorrow at the Apollon Festival, in the ancient outdoor theater of Apollonia, near modern Fier.  But the full dress rehearsal took place at the Military Cultural Center of Tirana tonight in the presence of the Italian Ambassador.

The Military Cultural Center’s theater is not very large, and the seats squeaked more than the orchestra’s strings, but even so the atmosphere was more pleasant than in the city’s opera house.  The Ambassador left early, as did more than half of the audience, but that was not really fair.  Although hardly an impressive performance, it maintained the standard I now expect in Albania, of a bunch of tolerable singers having fun on stage with basic high-school-like sets, with the enjoyment spilling into the audience.  Armand Likaj performed a spirited Figaro and drove the plot, as he is supposed to.

The most beautiful voice of the evening belonged to the Bulgarian bass Emil Zhelev, with his cavernous deep voice personifying Don Basilio the music-master.  The rest of the cast hit many of the notes, more or less.  Actually, it seemed a shame that Ogert Islami, who sang the bit role of Fiorello, did not get a bigger part, as he stole the show during the opening scene.

Conductor Valmir Xoxa kept the small orchestra on pace.  While the strings screeched, the woodwinds sounded pleasant even when missing their cues.