WASHINGTON, November 25, 2014 – This past Saturday’s “Live in HD” simulcast of the New York Metropolitan Opera’s “Il Barbiere di Siviglia” (“The Barber of Seville”) is so lively, funny and entertaining that last weekend’s audience might even consider catching it again. The performance was recorded, and it will be reprised at participating movie theaters tomorrow, Wednesday, November 26 at 6:30 p.m.
And for those who missed the performance, hey, it’s a great musical appetizer for that incoming Thanksgiving Day feast.
Make no mistake: our lovable working class hero Figaro is back again in this popular, timeless opera, ready and able to thwart convention, instigate romance and, of course, make plenty of money on the side for his various non-tonsorial services.
As with “La Bohème,” “Carmen,” and a few other operas that seem to pop up with alarming regularity on opera company schedules, one can gradually grow tired of “Barber” simply due to the sheer number of times most regular audience members see and hear it over the years. It can sometimes be too much of a good thing.
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 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.
Hosted by soprano Deborah Voigt, Wednesday night’s reprise 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.
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.
With no disrespect whatsoever to the considerable skills of Mr. Maltman, Mr. Brownlee’s Almaviva is really the star of this production, as Rossini may have intended him to be, given that he gets the showiest music to sing. But whatever the case, Mr. Brownlee takes it to the next level in a definitive performance of this role.
The supporting cast is equally delightful, from the minor roles to the chorus, and the orchestra, directed with great enthusiasm by Michele Mariotti is simply marvelous.
For those considering Wednesday’s reprise of “Barber,” the intermission features are an added plus.
Met star Deborah Voigt interviews all the opera’s primary stars in this edition as well as speaking with the Met’s longtime music director James Levine who will be conducting the company’s upcoming “Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg” (“The Master Singers of Nuremberg”), Richard Wagner’s somewhat infrequently heard early masterpiece with that famous overture. (The date for that simulcast is December 13, 2014.)
Ms. Voigt also gives us a backstage glimpse of rehearsals for the Met’s upcoming production of Franz Lehár’s “The Merry Widow,” which will be the Met’s first 2015 HD simulcast, set for January 17.
And as an extra-added bonus, theatergoers will get to meet Sir Gabriel, the real (not fake) donkey that pulls Figaro’s barbershop cart in this production. Spoiler alert: Sir Gabriel behaves like a perfect gentleman throughout, except when he’s trolling for treats.
Again, the encore performance of Rossini’s “Barber of Seville” Live in HD (approximately 3 hours in length) Wednesday, November 26 at 6:30 p.m. local time at participating local movie theaters.
For tickets, information and theater locations visit the Met’s website.