Strong cast opens Met’s sunny “Barbiere” with room to grow

Tue Jan 10, 2017 at 11:58 am
Peter Mattei, Javier Camarena and Pretty Yende in the Metropolitan Opera production of Rossini's "Il Barbiere di Siviglia." Photo: Marty Sohl

Peter Mattei, Javier Camarena and Pretty Yende in the Metropolitan Opera production of Rossini’s “Il Barbiere di Siviglia.” Photo: Marty Sohl

Monday night’s formula at the Metropolitan Opera seemed about as reliable a recipe as any for a winter hit: a masterpiece of bel canto comedy in a popular production with a star-stacked cast ought to sell out without too much trouble. Indeed, the season premiere of Rossini’s magnum opus, Il Barbiere di Siviglia, saw a packed house ready to cheer with abandon.

The performance itself was certainly worth a cheer or two, though not without reservations. As superb a cast as the Met has arranged for this run, it was hard to escape the feeling that the whole should have been better than it was. Javier Camarena, the leggiero tenor who has become a bona fide superstar in the last couple of seasons, had a slow start to the night in the flashy role of Count Almaviva–the usual golden peal of his tone was there, but in his first aria, “Ecco, ridente in cielo,” some of his top notes clouded over and he showed an unaccustomed clumsiness in the fioritura.

For Pretty Yende, Monday’s outing as Rosina was perhaps her most significant appearance to date at the Met, her biggest starring role so far with the company and coming right on the heels of a guest appearance on The Late Show.

Though the temptation to make a real splash out of the occasion is certainly understandable, the ornamentation she added to “Una voce poco fa” was excessive, and not especially accurate. By observing the ancient custom of stretching the aria beyond all recognition she got in the way of what could have been a far more interesting interpretation.

When she reined herself in even just a bit, as in the music lesson in Act II, the natural shine of her voice, its perfect liquidity, citric zest, and lively, quick vibrato, made her a joy to listen to. Yende is a tremendously gifted artist, and would do well to trust her musical sense more often, rather than trying to win the audience over with a display of fireworks.

One of the most versatile artists on the Met’s roster, Peter Mattei returns to the role of Figaro, one of many in which he has excelled with the company. His portrayal of the wily barber is a thing of beauty, a fully developed character that springs to life thanks to Mattei’s theatrical instincts and preternatural comic timing. It hardly needs to be said at this point, but his voice itself is a marvel, a robust, powerful instrument of rich, earthy colors that booms effortlessly in the house. A squashed high note at the end of “Largo al factotum” was easily forgiven–his rendition of the touchstone patter song, sung with comedic gusto, was impossible not to grin at.

Maurizio Muraro was ideal in leading the supporting cast as Dr. Bartolo, inhabiting the role with sour pomposity and steering his round, resonant bass-baritone through his patter with precision. Mikhail Petrenko’s rough-grained bass was a fine fit for the bumbling Don Basilio, and Karolina Pilou made a strong debut, showing a bitter edge as Berta. Tyler Duncan got the evening off to a fine start, showing an oaky tone as Fiorello.

Bartlett Sher’s sunny staging, having appeared dozens of times since its 2006 premiere, has lost none of its appeal, offering a nimble, uncomplicated take on the work that captures its essential playfulness. The actors, under the direction of Kathleen Smith Belcher, relished the lighthearted fun of the piece, none more so than Rob Besserer, whose silent portrait of the exhausted old servant Ambrogio has itself become a perennial highlight in revivals of this production.

Less attuned to the aggressive charm of the piece was Maurizio Benini, whose conducting assignments continue to frustrate. After a commendably spirited overture, he failed to find much life in the score, and often failed to keep it together in ensemble scenes. The most consistent presence in the pit was Robert Morrison, finding brilliant colors in his continuo playing.

Hopefully, many of the shortcomings from Monday’s performance–Camarena’s slow start, shaky ensemble, and the like–can be chalked up to opening-night jitters. There’s so much talent assembled in this cast, this run of Barbiere ought to be one of the highlights of the spring.

Il Barbiere di Siviglia runs through February 11 at the Metropolitan Opera. Dmitry Korchak takes over the role of Count Almaviva beginning on January 21. The January 21 performance also features Valeriano Lanchas as Dr. Bartolo and Oren Gradus as Don Basilio. metopera.org


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