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Our motto: "Critical thinking in the cheap seats." Unbiased, honest classical music and opera opinions, occasional obituaries and classical news reporting, since 2007. All written content © 2016 by Paul J. Pelkonen. For more about Superconductor, visit this link. For advertising rates, click this link. Follow us on Facebook.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Opera Review: Orange Crush

Il Barbiere di Siviglia at the Met.
by Paul Pelkonen
The lovers make their escape in Act II of the Barber.Photo by Andrea Kremperer
© 2009 Baden-Baden Festspiel/The Metropolitan Opera.
The Met's final 2010 performance of Il Barbiere di Siviglia was an occasion for sparkling vocal performances and robust comedy. In this kinetic staging by Bartlett Sher, the opera is re-imagined as Dr. Bartolo's fevered nightmare. The curtain rises during the overture, with Rosina's guardian asleep on the stage, accompanied by the mute Ambrogio (played to good slapstick effect by dancer Rob Besserer). Doors shift around mysteriously, explosions go off for no reason, and a gigantic anvil descends from the rafters, to destructive, if comic effect.



With her quicksilver voice and rapid command of Italian, Diana Damrau is a natural in the role of Rossini's viperish heroine. She really shone in her entrance aria "Una voce poco fa" and in the Act II "Lesson Scene" where she transformed one of the most familiar moments of the score into one of its most thrilling. This was a thrilling performance, which echoed her star turn in La Fille du Régiment earlier in the season.

Her Almaviva was not to be outdone. Tenor Lawrence Brownlee is a star on the rise. An American singer (who was in the 2007 run of this same production) he overacts at times and does not have the sweetest voice. However, he possesses a nimble, agile instrument that got better as the evening went on. And he wowed the audience with "Cessa di piu resistere," the tenor showpiece that is so difficult that it remains a standard cut in this opera.

Franco Vassallo has a stirring, high-lying baritone that is just on the verge of being a low tenor. As Figaro, was a good comic foil for the romantic leads, but did not inject enough of his own personality into the role. Maurizio Muraro was a funny, old-fashioned Bartolo who relied a bit too much on comic falsetto. The venerable Samuel Ramey got a rare opportunity to do comic business as Don Basilio, but the worn character of his bass was all too audible during "La calunnia."

Maurizo Benini conducted a distinctive "period" reading of the score, racing through Rossini's crescendoes at dizzying speed. The rapid-fire approach continued throughout the first act, blazing through the opening choruses and keeping the action moving. Orchestral touches included the use of a military side drum instead of traditional timpani or bass drum. The percussionist used side fills and hard rim shots to keep the action with a high-speed metronomic beat, but that did nothing to distract from the comedy onstage.
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Critical Thinking in the Cheap Seats

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Since 2007, Superconductor has grown from an occasional concert or CD review to a near-daily publication covering classical music, opera and the arts in and around NYC, with excursions to Boston, Philadelphia, and upstate NY. I am a freelance writer living and working in Brooklyn NY. And no, I'm not a conductor.