Photo Journal: A Breezy New Barber at the Met

Classic Arts News   Photo Journal: A Breezy New Barber at the Met
 
"For the inventive, breezy new production of Il barbiere di Siviglia at the Metropolitan Opera," writes Anthony Tommasini in The New York Times, "the director Bartlett Sher, making his Met debut, has embraced the opera's atmosphere of intrigue and subterfuge."

Critics have (for the most part) praised the new staging, which opened last Friday (November 10) and features a series of movable doors, plenty of orange trees, and an hommage _ Zeffirelli in the form of a well-behaved donkey.

Michael Portantiere, writing in TheaterMania, said, "Set designer Michael Yeargan, costume designer Catherine Zuber, and lighting designer Christopher Akerlind — the team that worked with Sher on both The Light in the Piazza and Awake and Sing! [at Lincoln Center Theater] — create a lovely setting for this comic love story, a Seville that's sunny and colorful without seeming overly cartoonish."

Newsday's Justin Davidson wasn't so keen on the sets however, writing, "Shuttling rickety sets around the stage by hand helps stay within slender budgets and do away with the elaborate simulations of the Met's recent past, but it quickly becomes an affectation."

But he adds that "the singing was luxuriant enough to make up for cut-rate sets, and conductor Maurizio Benini kept the frenzy flowing and the ensemble tight."

The most unusual aspect of this production is the passarelle, a walkway which extends out over the orchestra pit towards the audience. This novelty was appreciated by critics — sitting in prime orchestra seats — who enjoyed the increased intimacy of seeing and hearing the singers up close. However, one fan in the balconies tells us that the passarelle altered sightlines significantly for the worse, with patrons in the upper reaches of the house forced to crane their necks and bodies to get a glimpse the action.

Martin Bernheimer of the Financial Times wrote that the walkway brought "some of the action closer to the audience" but ended up "distorting sonic balances in the process."

Tommasini added that the walkway "does muffle the sound of the orchestra somewhat, and some subtleties in the conductor Maurizio Benini's stylish and fleet performance were lost. On the other hand, it makes it easier for the singers to project."

And project they certainly did. The Rosina of coloratura soprano Diana Damrau received an (almost) unanimous thumbs-up for her knockout performance. (For those accustomed to hearing a mezzo in the role, Joyce DiDonato takes over Rosina later in the run.) Bernheimer was less keen on Damrau's Rosina than his colleagues, however, writing that she "explored the stratosphere with almost enough razzle-dazzle to justify the casting a tweety coloratura in music intended for an earthy mezzo-soprano. Too bad she couldn't avoid striking banal flamenco poses to convey the heroine's spitfire temperament."

Also praised was the Figaro of Peter Mattei: Mike Silverman wrote for the Associated Press that the Swedish baritone "exudes charisma and confidence and shows a flair for comic timing. His burnished sound is familiar to Met audiences, but his dexterity in Rossini's rapid twists and turns comes as a delightful surprise."

Silverman found that Juan Diego Fl‹rez, the young Peruvian who is currently the world's leading Rossini tenor, sang the Count Almaviva "with staggering aplomb" and "phenomenal technique." Bernheimer agreed that "the evening belonged to Juan Diego Fl‹rez. He shaded Almaviva's lyrical flights with finesse, embellished the line with elegance, enacted the charades with charm." Tommasini heard otherwise, however, writing that "though this may be a minority opinion, Mr. Fl‹rez's voice seems pinched these days and sounds strained. His softer singing was sometimes patchy and unstable in pitch."

And the rest of the cast? "Bass-baritone John Del Carlo, looking agreeably foolish in a large white wig, sang and acted a definitive Dr. Bartolo. Bass Samuel Ramey brought luster to the small role of the double-crossing music teacher, Don Basilio, and mezzo Wendy White joined the fun as the snuff-addicted maid, Berta," wrote Silverman.

Robert Hofler, in Variety, thought that "the singer-actors are comic masters who physically fit their roles and are effectively supported by a low-tech, if not exactly high-concept, production."


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