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Met Barbiere Springs Eternal

New York
Metropolitan Opera
01/09/2017 -  & January 13, 18, 21, 24, 28, February 1, 4, 8, 11, 2017
Gioachino Rossini: Il barbiere di Siviglia
Tyler Duncan (Fiorello), Javier Camarena (Count Almaviva), Peter Mattei (Figaro), Pretty Yende (Rosina), Maurizio Muraro (Dr. Bartolo), Rob Besserer (Ambrogio), Mikhail Petrenko (Don Basilio), Berta (Karolina Pilou), Mark Schowalter (Officer)
The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and Chorus, Maurizio Benini (conductor)
Bartlett Sher (director), Michael Yeargan (sets), Catherine Zuber (costumes), Christopher Akerlind (lighting designer)

(© Marty Sohl)

Rossini’s famous comedy stands as one of the few truly successful productions mounted at the Metropolitan Opera over the past decade. While most new productions have suffered from directors in other media coming to the opera for the first time, the celebrated Broadway director Bartlett Sher scored a hit with his Barbiere, which is revived with relative frequency and has even been adapted in an abbreviated English-language "family version." The full-length original Italian version has now returned for a healthy run of ten performances, the first of which is under review here. The use of space – with entrances from the audience and an extension of the stage around the orchestra pit – is still an effective vehicle for Rossini’s comedy. But unhappily the production now looks less luminous and even a bit tired.

Fresh voices help. The dynamic young soprano Pretty Yende, barely over thirty, sang an enchanting Rosina. A creamy tone recalled a younger Kathleen Battle in the part and energized what can be overly familiar music with delightful melismas and expansively intricate coloratura runs. The character emerged playfully but without ever seeming over the top. Purists may take umbrage, as one towering bore did at intermission, but the thunderous ovations spoke for themselves. The role of Rosina’s suitor Almaviva fell to the newly famous Mexican tenor Javier Camarena. Just two years off his unexpected and highly praised breakout Met performances, he, too, radiated an uncommon sweetness of tone that enraptured much of the audience. Command of the higher register was not always strong, however, and there were some strained notes in the early moments. But as he went on with the evening, his confidence grew and his sound bloomed with more effulgent harmonies.

Peter Mattei may be the most pleasing lyric baritone before the public today, and his Figaro was no disappointment in vocal regard. At times the pairing of his stentorian voice with hammy drama recalled why Barbiere can be a challenge, but it is hard to imagine a better singer in the role. Maurizio Muraro’s Bartolo evoked but did not quite equal the comedic menace of the late John Del Carlo, who commanded the basso buffo repertoire at the Met in the decade or so before his untimely death last fall. Mikhail Petrenko’s Basilio contained good resonances but the highs eluded him. Karolina Pilou made a charming company debut in the often overlooked role of Bartolo’s housekeeper Berta.

Maurizio Benini has been known to conduct more performances in one week than there are days of week. He led a steady but not exactly thrilling performance.

Paul du Quenoy



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