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Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Opera Review: New Blood, and a Rubber Chicken

Il Barbiere di Siviglia returns to the Met.
Isabel Leonard (left) looks on as tenor Javier Camarena
sings "Cessa di piu' resistere" in Il Barbiere di Siviglia.
Photo by Ken Howard © 2011 The Metropolitan Opera.

Bartlett Sher's madcap take on Rossini's Barber of Seville has been around for five years now. This year's revival (seen Wednesday night at the Met) proves that this Looney Tunes-inspired staging continues to give audiences the chance to hear great voices make an impression in this beloved comedy.

Both Juan Diego Flórez and Diana Damrau cut their teeth as Count Almaviva and Rosina in 2006. Elina Garanca (2008) and Joyce DiDonato (2009) have also made an impression in the latter part. This year's revival offers the same opportuny to new singers: bel canto tenor Javier Camarena as Almaviva and mezzo-soprano Isabel Leonard as Rosina.

Ms. Leonard made the stronger impression. Her throaty mezzo plunged the depths in "Una voce poco fa" and soared over the clattering ensemble in the finale of the first act. But what really stood out here was the Lesson Scene. Ms. Leonard took her pretty little aria (an afterthought in most stagings) and soared with it, adding extensive fioratura to stunning effect.

As Count Almaviva, the scheming, costume-changing nobleman whose efforts to woo Rosina drive the opera's plot, Mr. Camarena made a good entrance. He tossed off "Ecco ridente" with ease, and engaged in some good physical comic business with his small army of backup musicians, even throwing a chair at one point. He was excellent as the drunken soldier, and a convincing, funny Don Alonso. However, this promising Mexican tenor fell into a trap at the opera's end.

Ever since this production premiered with Mr. Flórez in the role of Almaviva, audiences have looked forward to hearing the difficult "Cessa di piu' resistere" right before the finale. But this difficult, florid aria proved to be too much of a challenge for Mr. Camarena. His instrument sounded awkward and stiff at points, the notes coming out on pitch but sounding compressed and slightly pinched. He was better in the final section ("E tu, infelice vittima") and managed a strong finish.

Peter Mattei returned as Figaro. Having created the role for this production, he showed great familiarity ease with the part. His breezy "Largo al Factotum" (opening from the top of his rolling barber-shop) got the opera moving and his physical, comic acting with Mr. Camarena added zest to "Al idea di quell' metallo." Paata Burchuladze was a funny, familiar presence as Don Basilio. Maurizio Muraro was a mediocre Bartolo, engaging in mugging when he should be singing this tricky comic villain.

Mr. Sher's production remains sturdy, with its slamming doors, dropping anvils and offstage explosions. (This year's kitchen explosion included a rubber chicken, flung across the stage at the harpsichord.) Mute clown Rob Besserer (as Ambrogio) remains a key component of the goings-on, although he broke silence to mutter "basta" at Mr. Camarena and Mr. Muraro during "Pace, gioia." Maurizio Benini's conducting was serviceable, but could have been tighter.

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