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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 © 2019 by Paul J. Pelkonen. For more about Superconductor, visit this link. For advertising rates, click this link. Follow us on Facebook.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Opera Review: Drop That Anvil!

The Met brings back Barbiere.
by Paul Pelkonen
The Metropolitan Opera's revival of Bartlett Sher's whirligig production of Il Barbiere di Siviglia isn't quite on the same level as its premiere in 2006. While the cheerful insanity and Looney Tunes physics remain intact, the production missed the presence of super-tenor Juan Diego Flórez and his effortless mastery of the difficult role of Almaviva.
Anvil, anvil in the sky...Act I of Il Barbiere di Siviglia. Photo by Ken Howard 2009 The Metropolitan Opera
Here, his replacement is Jose Manuel Zapata, who is simply not in the same league. His voice is lyric, with a sweet timbre when at mezzo voce. But when he adds volume, it pinches in his upper register, producing an unpleasant sound. (Happily, Zapata elected to skip Cessa di piu resistere, the murderously difficult Act II rondo , a standard cut.)

Franco Vassallo was a characterful Figaro--a bit too mannered in "Largo al factotum" but good at the comic business the role calls for. The way he plays the barber, you wonder if Rosina would be better off marrying a man with his own haircutting emporium.

That particular redhead was in very good voice on Monday night, well sung and acted by Latvian mezzo Elìna Garanča. She sang in the authentic Rossinian manner, hitting lovely highs and characterful low notes. Maurizio Muraro was a good-natured, bumbling Bartolo. Ruggerio Raimondi, making a rare Met appearance wwas a fine Basilio. His sonorous low notes in "La Calunia"" and comic timing in the Act II quintet were highlights of the evening.

This spare staging traded in the big rotating house-set for sliding, moving door-frames, mobile orange trees and odd moments of Looney Tunes physics. Other than that, the stage is mostly bare and extends out over and around the orchestra pit. This brings the singers closer to the audience (well, the orchestra and the parterre boxes) but causes balance problems with the sound.
Silly anvil, you can't fly!" Act I of Il Barbiere di Siviglia. Photo by Ken Howard. © 2009 The Metropolitan Opera.
There exists a (false) perception that Rossini is "easy" to conduct. That wasn't the case for stick-waver Frédéric Chaslin. He seemed to be having an awfully good time in the orchestra pit, but this was an inconsistent performance. The problems began with the first, wobbly chords. The overture was undermined by sloppy brass playing and ragged meters.

Apparently, Chaslin believes that fast tempos are somehow "funnier" (also false) so he barreled ahead, ignoring precision and textures in pursuit of an opera buffa ideal. Worse yet, the addition of clangy, distracting (and frequently, off-the-beat) percussion made the usually taut Met orchestra sound like an Italian town band after a few too many bottles of Chianti.

The lowlight of the evening: the addition of "Spanish" flamenco guitar embellishments to "Se il mio nome." That led to to an distracting shout of "¡Olé!" (from somewhere either onstage, in the pit or in the house) that nearly killed this lovely little aria. Completely unnecessary.

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