Il Barbiere di Siviglia Metropolitan Opera, 31 October 2009
Can the Met please everyone at once? Come to that, can it please anyone?
I found Bartlett Sher's Il Barbiere di Siviglia beyond conservative, sitting comfortably within the tradition of tradition the Met is famous for. Not just the generic theatrical-historical costumery but the unfunny, old-fashioned, overstated gesticulation and buffoonery. Barbiere is a comedy, but the characters are not in on the joke. When they act with anything less than deadly seriousness, the show simply falls flat, as this one did all too frequently. (Maurizio Benini's over-polished conducting didn't help on that score either.) A stage director (Kathleen Smith Belcher) was credited, but did she do anything more than shove the singers into the correct position?
But a 25-year Met veteran I spoke to found it "modern" and "trashy". "Where is Seville?" he asked. He expected to see a lavishly reproduced simulacrum of olde-Spain. Instead there was a platform tower, a few orange trees and a handful of freestanding doors, all wheeled around by costumed stagehands. And perhaps as a nod to the past, a reluctant donkey.
I'm not sure who the production is aimed at, but landing in-between intelligent musical theatre (like Covent Garden's Leiser and Caurier production) and the singing picture approach leaves few satisfied - a mistake apparently repeated with the Met's recent Tosca. It's not pulling the customers in either - there were a surprising number of empty seats for this Saturday matinee.
Of course this is above all a singers' opera, and there were no real complaints on that account. Franco Vassallo's rambunctious Figaro and John Del Carlo pompous Bartolo hit the button, though Roberto Scandiuzzi's Don Basilio was a caricature too far.
But Joyce DiDonato's perky Rosina was the predictable standout. Despite Benini's zippy tempos, her coloratura was effortless and precise, and she pinged out those top notes like pearls. Barry Banks, several distracting inches shorter than DiDonato in her piled up Bette Midler wig, never seemed the Almaviva of her dreams. His runs are smudgy at speed, but his bright, nasal, uningratiating tone cuts easily through the auditorium. He gets bonus points for not just tackling the fearsome cabaletta to Cessa di più resistere, but pretty much nailing it.
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