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BWW Review: Two Nights in Seville, Part 1 - with BARBIERE at the Met

From left: Peter Mattei, Javier Camarena, Pretty
Yende. Photo: Marty Sohl/Metropolitan Opera

It didn't strike me until the lights were going down for the start of CARMEN last Thursday that this was the second night in a row that Met audiences were being transported to the same town in sunny Spain. Truth be told, "sunny" is hardly an adjective I'd hardly use to describe Bizet's tragedy in the shadow of the bullring, while it's just about right for dizzy events of Rossini's charmer, IL BARBIERE DI SIVIGLIA, which I'd heard the night before.

With BARBIERE, the Met managed to put together an all-star cast--just about the best you'd encounter anywhere in the delightful but challenging work. This was Barlett Sher's first production at the Met and it's still his best--simple and mostly consisting of slamming doors, in Michael Yeargan's sleek set design (Christopher Akerlind's lighting), which get plenty of use in this farce of the first magnitude. The revival's director, Kathleen Smith Belcher, did a fine job in reproducing the original's energy. But it's the score that really keeps things hopping--and has the game cast on their toes from beginning to end.

Count Almaviva was the debut role of tenor Javier Camarena back in 2011 and, despite a very good reception, it didn't much improve his profile with Met audiences. That didn't happen until he stepped into Rossini's LA CENERENTOLA (CINDERELLA) to replace Juan Diego Florez as the Prince opposite Joyce DiDonato in 2014 and set the place on fire. Now, it's hard to imagine that he didn't instantly become a star, as he throws off high C's and above as if they were nothing, while showing off his impeccable comic chops, disappearing into the role's many disguises and accents. (Though Met audiences haven't heard it yet, Camarena also has a magnificent serious side, which he showed in songs by Liszt at the Marilyn Horne Song Celebration at Carnegie Hall three nights later.)

He was matched, and then some, by soprano Pretty Yende as Rosina who, by any measure, showed off her spectacular coloratura, with impeccable ornamentation that kept coming and coming. It sounds picky to note that once or twice an aria seemed to disappear inside her runs and roulades, but anything was forgivable in a performance this daredevil and spot-on. I loved her "Una voce poco fa," which showed off her technique while drawing a clear picture of the character's independence and smarts, but I'd happily listen to any of her arias again. And she looked gorgeous in her costumes by Catherine Zuber.

Baritone Peter Mattei seemed to be suffering the aftermath of the flu, reputedly running rampant through the company. It didn't affect his broadly comic portrayal of Figaro--jack-of-all-trades--or physical energy or much of his singing, for that matter, but did cause some problems with the rapid-fire dialogue that a portion of the role demands, which he tried unsuccessfully to finesse. But even at his most conniving, he turned out an endearing portrait of the young barber as a smart-alecky young man.

The fourth side of this parallelogram--no square corners here--was the Dr. Bartolo of bass-baritone Maurizio Muraro, Rosina's hot air- driven guardian whose pursuit of his ward sets this balloon in motion. His endless breath control and ability to spit out his patter songs without coming up for air--including a marvelous "Un dottor della mia sorte," in which he warns Rosina that he's someone who can't be misled--were amazing.

Filling out the cast was bass Mikhail Petrenko, who gave a lively account of "La calunnia," telling all the ways he could ruin a reputation through rumors and mezzo Karolina Pilou as the maid, Berta, who had a lot of sneezing to do during most of the opera, but did a fine job with "il vecchiotto cerca moglie" (sometimes cut from the score), commenting on Bartolo's search for a young wife. Last but not least was veteran dancer Rob Besserer in the non-speaking, but athletic, role of the servant Ambrogio, which had plenty of hijinks to put across.

Conductor Maurizio Benini led a lively account of the score, with the fine Met orchestra and chorus happily along for the ride. This was a BARBIERE I'd be thrilled to get a shave-and-a-haircut from, anytime.


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From This Author Richard Sasanow

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