The Met Streams Rossini’s ‘Il Barbiere di Siviglia’

By Lynne Gray, PhD

Please note this can be seen at www.metopera.org

Monday, July 20

Rossini’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia  ~  2Hrs 48Mins

Starring Isabel Leonard, Lawrence Brownlee, Christopher Maltman, and Maurizio Muraro, conducted by Michele Mariotti. From November 22, 2014.

We begin Week 19 with the second turn for Bartlett Sher’s venerable, but still pleasing, production of Rossini’s joyful Il Barbiere di Siviglia – actually the prequel to Mozart’s Nozze di Figaro which we saw just two nights ago. As I said then – both stories come from the pen of the great French polymath, Pierre Beaumarchais, and are clever comedies concerning the wiles of pesky servants who are sometimes in league with – but are sometimes in competition with – their masters (a fact which made them often run afoul of the censors). 

One of opera’s most beloved stories, Rossini’s irreverent farce concerns a feisty young noblewoman with a mind of her own and is an absolute delight. Its setting—18th century Seville—and its zany storyline call for an ensemble cast of talented bel canto performers with commanding stage presence, perfect comic timing, and vocal agility to spare, making this work the perfect vehicle for virtuoso singers, as well as for audiences of all ages. 

This Met production is particularly sprightly, pleasing to the eye and rich in laughs. The title role is sung this time by the charismatic baritone Christopher Maltman, who makes a crowd-pleasing entrance atop Figaro’s wagon which is being pulled by adoring customers. He oozes devilish appeal during his opening aria, the famous “Largo al factotum,” wearing a red Phrygian cap as if it were a royal crown. Tenor Lawrence Brownlee makes a dashing Almaviva who has a flair for comic disguises and sings with a focused, ardent and gleaming tone. Isabel Leonard is a pitch-perfect Rosina, pert but shrewd, dispatching Rossini’s dizzying runs and ornaments with perfect precision. Maurizio Muraro owns the role of Bartolo, his diction is absolutely flawless in the rapid-fire patter arias, and Paata Burchuladze is a sly, gravelly Basilio. 

This youthful cast brings Rossini’s immortal comedy to sparkling life while the wily Barber, Figaro, who regularly outwits his wealthy patrons, is the true star of the show. Figaro? – you might say — isn’t that a different opera? And yes – it is! Although this is the one with the famous ‘Largo al factotum’ (perhaps because of, but more likely in spite of, Woody Woodpecker’s version).

Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro, written in 1786, predated Rossini’s Barber by some 30 years, even though the Mozart story is actually the sequel to Rossini’s. So – the crafty hero, Figaro, in Mozart’s opera is actually tonight’s barber of Seville as well — Figaro, Figaro, Figaro! And while we’re still on Figaro – Isabel Leonard, tonight’s beautiful heroine, Rosina, was actually Saturday night’s delightfully hormonal adolescent boy – Cherubino.

And now that we have all that straight, this particular story revolves around the feisty young Rosina who is the unhappy ward of the lecherous old Dr. Bartolo who intends to marry her himself. Having seen her on her balcony, however, the dashing young Count Almaviva has fallen in love with her and engages a party of musicians to serenade her. Being locked in, she is, of course, unable to appear on her balcony, but she has certainly heard her ardent suitor, who in the first of many disguises we will see him put on this evening, is pretending to be a struggling student – Lindoro. She immediately decides to do whatever it takes to get to know him better.

Figaro, who was a former servant of the Count’s, happens along just in the nick of time to advise (for a nice fee, of course) his former master on how to get past Bartolo and woo the fair Rosina. It takes a great many disguises, failed attempts and much general hilarity to finally unite the young lovers and to outwit Bartolo and his confidant, the prissy music master, Don Basilio.

You’ll have to watch and listen closely to catch all the jokes, the sight gags, the disguises and the incredible characterizations that make this opera – and especially this cast – a true delight! Be sure to pay particular attention for the times when both Rosina and the Count decide to depart from the score and serve up some delightful coloratura fireworks – just for the fun of it!

Photo Credits

1. Isabel Leonard as Rosina and Christopher Maltman as Figaro in Rossini’s “Il Barbiere di Siviglia” at the Met, 2014. Photo Credit: Ken Howard / Metropolitan Opera.

2. Rob Besserer as Ambrogio, Maurizio Muraro as Bartolo, Paata Burchuladze as Basilio, Isabel Leonard as Rosina, Berta, the old governess, Christopher Maltman as Figaro and Lawrence Brownlee as Count Almaviva in Rossini’s “Il Barbiere di Siviglia” at the Met, 2014. Photo Credit: Ken Howard / Metropolitan Opera.

3. Lawrence Brownlee, Maurizio Muraro, Isabel Leonard and Christopher Maltman in Rossini’s “Il Barbiere di Siviglia” at the Met, 2014. Photo Credit: Sara Krulwich / The New York Times 

4. Lawrence Brownlee, Christopher Maltman and Isabel Leonard in Rossini’s “Il Barbiere di Siviglia” at the Met, 2014. Photo Credit: Ken Howard / Metropolitan Opera.

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