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Sunday, August 31, 2014

Metropolitan Opera Preview: Il Barbiere di Siviglia

Figaro's barber shop is back in business.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Tenor Lawrence Brownlee has an issue with the wig department.
Photo from Il Barbiere di Siviglia by Ken Howard © 2007 The Metropolitan Opera.
Although it was a complete and utter fiasco on its opening night in 1816, Rossini's Il Barbiere di Siviglia remains the heavyweight champ among operatic comedies. The adventures of Figaro and company have held the stage in one form or another for 198 years, and remains the composer's most famous work.

Count Almaviva, is an impetuous nobleman with a light tenor who has fallen madly and operatically in love with the beautiful Rosina, the ward of a crusty old doctor. In his quest to win the girl, Count Almaviva is aided by the ubiquitous Figaro, a local barber who has a song, a scheme or a shaving-brush to suit every occasion.

First seen in 2006, this was director Bartlett Sher's first effort for the Metropolitan Opera. It is a concoction of sliding doors, flying anvils and smashing pumpkins (not the band) that celebrates the bubbling spirit of Rossini's music with laugh-out-loud visuals. The director freely embraces cartoon physics, creating a surreal Seville that never fails to entertain.

The Met mounts the Barber regularly. This year's cast brings back tenor Lawrence Brownlee and mezzo Isabel Leonard as the young lovers. Christopher Maltman, the star of last year's Die Fledermaus takes on the title role of Figaro. Michele Mariotti conducts. In Italian with projected Met Titles.

Il Barbiere di Siviglia opens Nov. 18.

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 recording as Almaviva, and his light, airy tenor and experience with the part make him a good 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.

Tickets for Il Barbiere di Siviglia are available at MetOperaFamily.Org, by calling (212) 362-6000, or at the box office.

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