The Metropolitan Opera has finally issued the 1989 video of Il Barbiere di Siviglia, starring Kathleen Battle in the role of Rosina.
Despite the old-fashioned decision to cast a coloratura soprano in a role written for a mezzo, this is a successful performance of Rossini's most famous opera. Ms. Battle is in fine, agile voice here, racing up and down the scales of Rossini's arias, hamming it up with trilled R's and other comic touches, and hitting a stellar high E flat in "Una voce poco fa." She presents a charming, vixenish presence as Rosina, the kept ward of Dr. Bartolo longing to escape from his house and marry the Count Almaviva. The title character, Figaro (Leo Nucci) plays matchmaker.
Ms. Battle is ably supported by a strong cast. Rockwell Blake is a gorgeous, soaring Amvaviva, ideally suited to the roles high timbre. He even throws in a beautiful "Cessa di più resistere" at the end to good effect. This was the first time that this aria (a standard cut) was performed at the Met. Ever. Leo Nucci is a fatherly, energetic Figaro, putting all those years of experience in the role of Rigoletto to good use. He also gets to do prop comedy during "Largo al factotum" and "All'idea di quel metallo", pulling Almaviva's necessary military documents out of his well-stocked vest.
A few words must be said for the basses. Enzo Dara is one of the finest to ever speed through Dr. Bartolo's patter aria. He is pretty much responsible for the renewed interest in "A un dottor della' mia sorte", an aria that was long considered too difficult to perform. Here, it is the comic highlight of the entire opera. Not to be outdone, Ferruccio Furlanetto is a coarse, funny Don Basilio, working himself up to appropriate apoplexy in "La calunnia."
This performance is notable for preserving this production of the opera, which ran at the Met for many years and proved perennially popular with audiences. The action is set in front of a big model of Dr. Bartolo's house, using the Met's turntable stage to present the action. Ralf Wiekert conducts a fizzy reading of the score, that stays true to the critical edition of Rossini's work that has been in general use since the late 1960s.