Opera Reviews
23 January 2019
Untitled Document
The demon barber of Fleet Street reaches Italy
by Silvia Luraghi
Sondheim: Sweeney Todd
Teatro Comunale di Bologna
10 November 2009

Photo: Rocco CasaluciThe Italian premiere production of Sweeney Todd is presently touring the Emilia Romagna region. After the opening at Lugo and some performances in Modena, Stephen Sondheim's musical is now playing in Bologna, and will then move to Piacenza. Previously, Sweeney Todd had been performed only once in a reduced scale student production; thus, it was unknown to Italian audiences until the 2007 film version directed by Tim Burton (and even after that, it remained unknown to most, since the movie was not especially successful in Italy).

With no past performance history to reckon with, stage director Rosetta Cucchi was free to design her own production and find a way to make it enjoyable for traditional operagoers. Cucchi staged the action in an abandoned, two-storey factory building, on the left of the stage, with the barber's shop on the top level and the oven of the pie shop conveniently placed below. On the right side, an opening served as a connection to further settings: the judge's home, Fogg's Asylum.

From the opening, Johanna moves to the center of the stage in a golden cage, singing her aria "Green Finch and Linnet Bird," Tobias Ragg jumps in singing "Pirelli's Miracle Elixir," followed by his master. The dark clothed chorus moves about on the stage like a group of distant observers of the events, as in a Greek tragedy. Sweeney and Mrs. Lovett collect black hats from members of the chorus during their duet "A Little Priest". When the barber performs his murders, the background turns red, the only color to contrast with the dark gray of the sets.

The sets, designed by Paolo Cavinato, the costumes, by Claudia Pernigotti, and the lights by Marco Cittadoni provided a good setting where the singers could act, following Cucchi's detailed stage directions. It must be said that her work was certainly made easier by the very high level of the cast.

All singers were excellent, and especially John Packard (Sweeney Todd) and Melissa Parks (Mrs. Lovett) acted delightfully. Amanda Forbes (Johanna) displayed a nice lyric soprano, Darren Abrahams (Pirrelli) and Ethan Herschenfeld (judge Turpin) acted and sang with commitment, while Mark T. Panuccio (Anthony Hope) was perhaps vocally less impressive. The revelation of the show was twelve year old Asia D'Arcangelo, a lively Tobias Ragg, with a perfectly tuned voice, and a lot of energy, but also tender in her childish attitude.

Conductor Christopher Franklin managed to lead the Orchestra del Teatro Comunale through an unfamiliar score with very good results. Even though members of the audience were heard making skeptical comments during the intermission, the performance ended in a big success, with applause for everyone and a special tribute to Packard, Parks and D'Arcangelo.

Photos: © Rocco Casaluci
Text: © Silvia Luraghi
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