Il Barbiere di Siviglia
Gioachino Rossini, libretto by Cesare Sterbini, based on the play by Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais
Metropolitan Opera House, New York
The Barber of Seville is the Met’s comic opera of choice, having apparently beaten all competition to date when it comes to number of appearances.
Watching Bartlett Sher’s production, first seen just over 10 years ago, it is not difficult to see why.
Sher works hard to eke every moment of comedy from a work based on Beaumarchais’s farcical play with Commedia roots. Indeed, he also injects additional pieces of comic stage business, taking the running time to a touch over three hours but adding much to the enjoyment.
These particularly involve Rob Besserer taking the silent part of Dr Bartolo’s servant, a long-haired ancient with a gift for very funny, inadvertent slapstick.
Maurizio Muraro’s doctor is a classic mean old man slyly seeking to marry his lovely, innocent ward, Rosina. As with all of the best comedies, the rich old man doesn’t get things all his own way.
Count Almaviva, sung by Javier Camarena who really comes into his own in the triumphant later stages of the evening, is in every sense a more desirable suitor.
In order to get close to the effectively imprisoned young lovely, he takes on a series of characters and pseudonyms, enlisting the assistance of Peter Mattei as Figaro, the popular local barber/surgeon with a great stature and a big, satisfying baritone.
These are the ingredients for a splendid comedy that moves towards an inevitable happy ending, although there are enough impediments to make viewers wonder whether all might go wrong, especially when bass Mikhail Petrenko as Don Basilio arrives to speed along the marriage between Doctor and ward.
The look of this evening is traditional, featuring lavish costumes and a setting that features innumerable doors, revolving and transforming as required and, to create a sense of Seville, some fruitful orange trees, which also take on symbolic significance.
Musically, Rossini has written one of the great operas and this production benefits greatly from some superb casting and the efforts of conductor Maurizio Bernini and the seemingly ever-faultless Met Orchestra.
They provide support to Peter Mattei, who always grabs the attention both with comic timing and his voice in the title role.
However, in the singing stakes, South African soprano Pretty Yende playing Rosina is the star, singing so beautifully that she repeatedly stopped proceedings while the audience showed its heartfelt appreciation at length.
This is the kind of opera that can be appreciated by those that are unfamiliar with the genre as well as the devoted, which is never a bad thing.
Pleasingly, thanks to the wonders of modern technology, the performance on 28 January is to be relayed to radio stations around the world, which means that those in the UK can enjoy it live via the Internet on stations such as the wonderful WQXR New York.
Reviewer: Philip Fisher