Thursday, October 27, 2011

Sui maccheroni il cacio v'è cascato: Barbiere di Siviglia

My theory that it's impossible to leave a good Rossini performance without a smile on your face (and at least one fragment of melody stuck in your head) stands. Despite some less-than-inspired conducting from Maurizio Benini, Wednesday's Barbiere made for a thoroughly enjoyable evening, with fine singing and fine acting from all. Isabel Leonard's vivacious, brilliantly sung Rosina was a delight, as was Rodion Pogossov's irrepressible Figaro. Bartlett Sher's production could be accused of having a gimmick or two too many, but I think the frothy exuberance of it suits the plot and music well.

The conducting of Benini did not strike me as rising to the level of the singers. Tempi were workmanlike, and there was not much dynamic nuance, either (the orchestra almost covered the singers at a few points.) I think I noticed Isabel Leonard and Samuel Ramey giving subtle cues to keep the conductor with them during their arias; this helped. Rossini's score still triumphed, but I wished it had been handled with a lighter touch. The singers, thankfully, handled Rossini's bel canto flourishes and no less extravagant comedy with panache. Maurizio Muraro gave a splendid buffo turn as the deluded Dottor Bartolo, with a warm, solid bass and a perpetually put-upon air. The Don Basilio of Samuel Ramey, who sang with comedic relish and vocal assurance, was likewise a treat.  Ramey's vocal gravitas was used to hilarious effect when the rest of the company is trying to pack him off to bed, and "La calunnia" was a delight.

Alexey Kudrya, in his Met debut, made an ardent Almaviva. He sang with great musical sensitivity, and his serenades to Rosina were lovely. ("Cessa di più resistere" was omitted, which I thought very wise, given that Kudrya sounded somewhat thin at the top of his range.) Isabel Leonard gave the best performance I've heard from her; she handled the challenges of the score not only with skill, but with grace and wit. Rosina's runs and trills were executed beautifully, and were made an integral part of Leonard's vivacious portrayal. Rodion Pogossov was her theatrical equal: a cheeky, charming, and apparently tireless Figaro. With vocal charisma and agility, he was quite plausibly the indispensable engineer of events he claims to be. He shone especially in the duets with Kudrya and Leonard (and of course in their hilarious trio.) It may be cold and rainy in New York, but in sunny Seville, all's right with the world.

Curtain call photos:

 Ramey, enjoying himself

Kudrya, moving fast

Leonard, our charming Rosina

Ah, bravo Figaro!


  1. I saw Barbieri last Saturday and thoroughly enjoyed it. My son - age 15 -- was dumbfounded when I told him after that folks were laughing out loud. "At an OPERA?!" And yes, it is always a pleasure to wander out with a smile on your face and a (few) tunes in your head.

    A question: Do you think the giant, oversized, anvil that descends at the end is a nod to the giant anvils of Loonytunes given how those cartoons often referred to opera and to Rossini in particular?

  2. You redecorated. Its nice.

    Basically ... yeh. I was disappointed a couple of weeks ago by the Mattei cancellation but while he was tremendous when I saw him in this a few years ago and his is a distinctive and, of course, magnificently sung Figaro, Pogossov somehow seem more appropriate to the role. Mattei perhaps a touch too aristocratic.

    Leonard's Rosina is beautifully sung, absolutely gorgeous and immensely charming. I've seen no less than Damrau, DiDonato and Garanca as Rosina over the last few years and Leonard holds her own in that company and in the totality of her performance she might actually (GASP!) be the best of the lot. Also agree that this is the best thing I've seen her do but her Zerlina is also fantastic (and returning later this year). Her Dorabella was fine but not special and her Cherubino kind of disappointing. Far from terrible of course but I don't find her at all convincing as a boy (which, of course bodes ill for her Octavian).

  3. @GBliss Glad to hear it! I just assumed that the anvil was a nod to the cheerful absurdity of the Rossini crescendo... but I wouldn't put a Looney Tunes nod past Sher.

    @marcillac Thanks! I'm still trying to decide whether it's too pink for me to live with, but I think it's an improvement. I never saw Mattei live in the role (caught the HD rebroadcast on the plaza) but I'm interested by your assessment. I loved Pogossov's earthy energy and confidence.

    I feel so much less crazy now that I know I'm not the only one not to have found Leonard's Cherubino particularly distinguished. Impressed by your take on the Rosinas... I find that somehow this is my first live Barbiere (how did that happen?)

  4. The Pink (now that you got me thinking I think I'll try a pink tie next week - its been since May) isn't too harsh but what I like best is how nicely it brings out the Met background.

    I mean Mattei is really good (its on DVD) very much in control, typically gorgeous singing and though I've seen too many Barbieres in recent years - the casts have been too good - I planned to go back specifically to hear him. (Guess we lost out but on the other hand we got the Don G so you loose some you win more. BTW, Glad MK is back and am going next week to see how he does). Still, while his "acting" is hard to fault, and here perhaps its my own predisposition, he is such a natural in aristocratic roles (how much would you want to see him as Posa?) that he seems to be "acting" rather than inhabiting Figaro. Pogossov, by contrast, is more credible as the resourceful middle/lower class guy on the way up and as you say, he meets the musical challenges with great success. And in any case its a matter of status. Many (including myself) would go specifically to hear Peter Mattei, very few would go to see Rodion Pogossov, but in the end most would walk away satisfied.

    I had very high expectations for Leonard's Cherubino but I thought she was kinda awkward (not in the way Cherubino is supposed to be but sort of uncomfortable), less energetic than I would have wanted, and sung with somewhat less vocal radiance and flexibility that I thought her capable of. Contrastingly, that very energy and radiant flexibility which you so superbly describe above was abundantly on display in her Rosina.*

    *This in complete contrast to Kate Lindsey, whose superb Cherubino in the Magnificent 2007 Met Figaro was, unbelievably enough, significantly improved upon last year in Munich. Her acting during "Non Piu Andrai" alone was easily worth the price of admission (I would absolutely have paid the for the front row center seat I had - except that it was free - and even at full price would have seemed almost free compared to the Met - have you seen the prices for the Faust Premiere!!!). I almost fell out my seat laughing at her forlorn look on the last Poco contante. By contrast she stepped in at the last minute as Rosina and was somewhat less successful (she had no rehearsal and sang 4 performances in 5 day so I suspect her Rosina deserves another look). Incidentally, my mom just saw her as Zerlina in San Francisco and said she was great.

    I see I've gone on again. I think you characterized an earlier comment as "detailed" and "passionate". Hmmm. That is to say extravagantly prolix and excruciatingly ponderous. The good Dottoressa would appear to be grading on a curve.

  5. @marcillac If prolixity is a fault, it's one I share, as you can't fail to have noticed! :) Of Kate Lindsey's Cherubino I am indeed jealous (I loved her Nicklausse.) I confess that I googled to confirm that yes, you did indeed mean Zerlina. I don't usually think of that as mezzo territory. I did find Pogossov to be naturally comedic in a way that Peter Mattei, enormously tall and dignified and velvety of voice as he is, isn't. For the prospect of his Posa I would have only enthusiasm.


Start a conversation!


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...