The Barber of Seville
Live on HD in the Movies
The latest in the New York Metropolitan Opera’s 2014-2015 season “Live in HD” movie theater simulcasts will feature one of the most popular operas of all time: Gioacchino Rossini’s “Il Barbiere di Siviglia,” aka, “The Barber of Seville.”
Yes indeed, that lovable working class hero Figaro is back again to thwart convention, instigate romance and, of course, make plenty of money on the side for his various non-tonsorial services.
Hosted by soprano Deborah Voigt, Saturday’s live broadcast production will feature British baritone Christopher Maltman in his Met debut in the title role; soprano Isabel Leonard as the saucy Rosina; and, as the lovestruck Count Almaviva, the incomparable Lawrence Brownlee whom Washington National Opera and Washington Concert Opera fans will remember as the compact tenor with the brilliantly big voice.
But this Met production takes a novel approach. From its costuming to its relatively spare but always moving sets, the company’s current production is traditional all the way, which is rather refreshing in an era when everything gets an update and all costumes are varying shades of Euro-gray.
The Met production, however, is loaded with colorful costuming, whirling windows and doors, à la French farce, and plenty of madcap attitude, likely coming across as its composer, Gioacchino Rossini, would have approved.
In some ways, however, this production is further enhanced by a decidedly un-traditional surprise: the addition of a “passerelle”—essentially a four-sided runway—that extends the stage all the way around the orchestra pit. It brings the singers and their voices closes to the audience at key intervals, and gives them a chance to get up close and personal with the audience to share witty asides almost as if this were a vaudeville show.
In this photo, two of the singers are getting up close and personal with the audience.
In the best sight gag of the show, the passerelle also enables Figaro to start hustling the front row audience members, passing out his business cards to a number of them during the curtain call.
All three vocalists are superb in this simulcast edition. Mr. Maltman is robust and humorously devious as Figaro, delivering that character’s famous aria “Largo al factotum” with the boastful panache it requires, and adding vocal heft and wit to each successive ensemble.
Soprano Isabel Leonard, whom we greatly enjoyed earlier this season as a gawky Cherubino in Mozart’s earlier but equally beloved “Marriage of Figaro,” abandons the trousers from that role to become Rosina, the object of Count Almaviva’s passions, in this one. The switch is perfect and complete. Ms. Leonard possesses an angelic soprano voice and it lit up the stage in this weekend’s performance.
Last but certainly not least among the principals is the phenomenal tenor, Lawrence Brownlee, as the lovestruck Almaviva. As an expert in bel canto and coloratura singing, Mr. Brownlee currently has no equal in the opinion of this reviewer. He loads his showier showpieces with unbelievably complex ornamentation, hitting every note, even in the most rapid figures, elegantly and cleanly, adding in near-perfect diction to boot.
Rather than review the opera in my own words, I chose to take bits and pieces of two reviews from the same sight.
Suffice it to say that this production of ‘Barber’ was all that it should be. As to be expected in opera buffo, there was a lot going on on the stage at any given moment so, unless you paid close attention, you probably missed a few of the more subtle actions.
My partner and I took my eleven- and thirteen-year-old grandchildren to this production and, to our surprise and delight, ‘Barber’ managed to hold the attention of two children who were more accustomed to using their various electronic gadgets than focusing on a performance.
As it happens, the first opera performance I ever attended was several centuries ago, when I was thirteen, and my grandparents took me to a production of The Barber of Seville, at the Carr Auditorium in Orlando. I don’t recall much about that evening, but I still have the program in a box–somewhere.
If these delightful Met live in HD performances come to a theater in your city, you should take advantage. They are worth it. Tickets in our city were $24 for adults $22 for seniors and $18 for children. Not cheap, but a bargain when you consider the cost of going to New York to see the operas in person. Speaking as an opera fan who has seen a number of Met performances in Lincoln Center over the years, I have to say, these Met Live in HD performances are definitely the next best thing to being there.