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Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Metropolitan Opera Preview: The Barber of Seville

The Met revives the Barber in "family-friendly" English.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
She's a vipera: Isabel Leonard returns as Rosina in The Barber of Seville.
Photo by Ken Howard © 2015 The Metropolitan Opera.
Rossini repackaged for the kids: with the most famous comedy in opera trimmed down to a lean 90 minutes. This is the Met's special holiday presentation of Gioachino Rossini's Barber of Seville with the radiant Isabel Leonard returning to the role of Rosina.

Even with the music edited down and the jokes diluted for a family audience, Barber remains the heavyweight champ among operatic comedies. Premiered in 1816, it has held the stage in one form or another for two centuries, and remains the composer's most famous work.

This English translation shortens the opera by about an hour by "condensing" the score. Some famous arias (Don Basilio's 'La Calunia') are eliminated altogether, while other parts of the work (the Overture) are truncated. The whole show is 90 minutes of music. With one intermission, it stretches  to two hours.

This is another revival of Bart Sher's wacky, Looney Tunes-inspired production, with mysterious doors, cartoon physics and the odd sight of a flying giant anvil. These family-friendly performances are intended as a holiday treat for parents who want to introduce their children to opera, and are sung in English.

The Barber of Seville opens December 16.

Recording Recommendation:
London Symphony Orchestra cond. Claudio Abbado (DG, 1971)
Figaro: Hermann Prey
Count Almaviva: Luigi Alva
Rosina: Teresa Berganza
Dr. Bartolo: Enzo Dara

The first Barber to be recorded using the critical edition of Rossini's score is 40 years old. It remains the best in the catalogue. Hermann Prey sings with great warmth and humor as Figaro, commenting on the action even as he drives the plot forward. This is Luigi Alva's second outing as Almaviva, and his light, airy tenor and experience with the part make him a comic foil as well as a noble lead.

Teresa Berganza is a strong mezzo Rosina, characterful and pert, taking full advantage of the low notes that Rossini wrote for the role. But the real treasure here is the whizz-bang performance of Enzo Dara, the Italian bass who made a career out of playing Doctor Bartolo. His performance of "Un dottor della mia sorte" does more than astonish the listener at the aria's technical demands: it can leave you rolling on the floor laughing.

Return to the Superconductor 2012-2013 Metropolitan Opera Season Preview.

Contact the author: E-mail Superconductor editor Paul Pelkonen.

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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.