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Tv Review : 'Glyndebourne': A Site For Soaring Sounds


Glyndebourne. The name sets operatic hearts astir. And now, finally, everything a fan wants to know about the famed idyll in the verdant English countryside comes to the armchair traveler Sunday at 1 p.m., courtesy of KCET Channel 28.

This superb documentary not only celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Glyndebourne Opera Festival (two years after the event), but it also introduces a series of five productions originating there in Sussex and airing on consecutive Sundays at 2 p.m. The first is Rossini's "Il Barbiere di Siviglia."

Like Glyndebourne itself, the half-century chronicle reflects the scrupulous artistic standards set by its founder, the late John Christie, who poured an immense fortune into his pastoral utopia for the lyric muse.

It is his voice, uttering such ultra-cultured words as shahn't , that provides the opening commentary for scenes of tuxedoed gentlemen and gowned ladies picnicking in a meadow where sheep graze--all part of the opera-going experience at the downland Sussex estate.

As heir Sir George Christie explains, he's "two-minded about Glyndebourne's (continuing) elitism": glad for the commercial advantage, sorry for the high cost that excludes the less well-endowed from his 830-seat enterprise. He speaks thoughtfully about his "passion" for the three-month-long extravaganza and thanks his parents "for getting the thing in its basic skeleton right."

"Glyndebourne: A Celebration of 50 Years" also includes black-and- white footage from 1934 with director Carl Ebert and conductor Fritz Busch, candid clips of many well-known figures including David Hockney, and scenes from several stellar productions. A must-see.

The "Barbiere," which follows, is also illuminating. What makes Glyndebourne the remarkable institution it still manages to be readily comes across here. There are no cliches, no time-dishonored routines. And for a buffo opera encrusted with hoary jokes, that in itself is an achievement.

Maria Ewing is the Rosina, and director John Cox encourages her to probe beyond comic coquetry. Indeed, she dispenses with all the common simpering and sulking of this pre-liberation heroine and finds her way straight to the undercover vamp.

Her drop-dead deception of Bartolo, a thing of brazen, unblinking insincerity, contradicts an eyelash-batting Beverly Sills; while the seductive mischief in her encounters with Almaviva is the other side of her quivering Cherubino. Here her affair of the heart is just as engaging, but it becomes an out-maneuvering game. Ewing's light mezzo, with its soft chest tones and gleaming top, suits the role perfectly.

Most inventive is the mix between this Rosina and the young, bullish Bartolo, Claudio Desderi. He casts off all notions of a creaky codger--both by characterization and a strong, fresh voice; he makes a fascinating foil for his would-be wife.

As Figaro, however, John Rawnsley is not more than a fussbudget of a factotum--a prissy, punctilious headwaiter type who lacks the required low notes. Neither is the Almaviva of Max-Rene Cosotti notable for portrayal or vocalism. Conductor Sylvain Cambreling provides neat, balanced, careful accompaniment. William Dudley's designs frame the proceedings with whimsical, storybook modernity.

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