Rossini's Il Barbiere di Siviglia at the Met

A happy Il Barbiere di Siviglia at the Metropolitan Opera

Lawrence Brownlee as Almaviva, Christopher Maltman as Figaro, and lsabel Leonard as Rosina

Lawrence Brownlee as Almaviva, Christopher Maltman as Figaro, and lsabel Leonard as Rosina

The Metropolitan Opera’s revival of Bartlett Sher’s production of Rossini’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia is a happy affair.

While it doesn’t completely ignore the undercurrent of social unrest, much more evident in Richard Eyre’s take on Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro earlier this season, director Bartlett Sher catches what Rossini left him and runs with it intelligently and creatively. We have doors, fruits, vegetables and plucked chickens in perpetual motion, thus fluid scene changes and healthy salads; we have sharply defined characters, thus many steps away from a mere buffo run-through; also we have unexpected laughs and impossible silliness, thus very few moments during which one’s attention could lapse, as it might in these sorts of operas. I’ve still no clue why a giant anvil crushes the pumpkin wagon to close Act I…all the same, I was a fan back at the production’s premiere in November of 2006. I stand reaffirmed in 2014.

A large part of the evening’s success rests with the cast and the pit. They, down to the smallest character, respond with fine musicianship, passion, and on stage with a boat load of smarts, all very necessary for the split second timing of the action.

Mezzo Isabel Leonard is every inch an exquisite Rosina, down to the last twitch of her right foot. In addition to her remarkable bella voce, she has an acute sense of Rosina’s inner workings such that her mercurial reactions to the ever changing complications of the plot are displayed as naturally as they would be in an animated discussion with parents about boyfriends and curfews. But more than that, Leonard brings a grand joie de vivre to the stage, as she did with her Cherubino, though here she is a young woman in love, not a young woman playing a young man in love with every woman he meets. Savor the moments. Bravissima!

Likewise Christopher Maltman, as Figaro, lights up the stage whenever he appears. Sher has him more of a Don Giovanni sort of character, a real babe magnet, though I suppose a little concrete evidence that Figaro really knows the hearts and bodies of the women of the Siviglia can’t hurt his resume. Maltman is lithe and vital, a real charmer.

Lawrence Brownlee reminds us that true Rossini tenors also come from the USA and that it’s possible to have a good time in character while singing some very difficult vocal lines. The ease with which Brownlee, in the Lesson Scene in Act II, moves from ardent protestations to comic posturing without missing a beat is outstanding. Another beautiful voice.

The two curmudgeons, Dr. Bartolo and Don Basilio, are pleasingly drawn. Maurizio Muraro’s Bartolo is edgy without being nasty, at times reflective though without dwelling too long on matters, and genuinely flummoxed when the reality hits that all his precautions to keep Rosina for himself were useless. I’m not sure Bartolo deserves the tongue lashing he gets from Almaviva at the opera’s finale. Don Basilio is winningly brought to life by Paata Burchuladze. A seasoned professional he, it’s good to have him back at the Met.

Claudia Waite is a sneezing Berta, alluding perhaps to the famous Sneezing Trio from Paisiello’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia from 1782. Rob Besserer repeats his debut role of Ambrogio. Sher fans will also remember Besserer’s Prompter in the Le Comte Ory in the spring of 2011. Without uttering many words, Ambrogio creates lots of dialog of his own with the others on stage and with the audience.

Michele Mariotti conducts Rossini’s brilliant score with aplomb. The evening zips by, but never rushes.

Kathleen Smith Belcher realizes Bartlett Sher’s direction for this revival. In addition to the clever staging, the color schemes wrought by Michael Yeargan’s sets, Catherine Zuber’s costumes, and Christopher Akerlind’s lighting are most attractive. The storm, a usual feature of Rossini operas, is creatively and attractively presented, i.e., not just a darkened stage with rumbles of thunder and flashing lights. It’s the total package here: the production’s aesthetic quality and consistency are critical parts of its success as much as the happy energy of the performers on stage.

Should be a real hoot in HD.

There is only one intermission.

Review performance date: November 18, 2014

Make it special. Winter is coming.

JRS

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