[Met Performance] CID:164950
New production
Il Barbiere di Siviglia {243} Metropolitan Opera House: 02/19/1954.

(Debut: Cyril Ritchard
Review)


Metropolitan Opera House
February 19, 1954

New production

IL BARBIERE DI SIVIGLIA {243}
Rossini-Sterbini

Figaro..................Robert Merrill
Rosina..................Roberta Peters
Count Almaviva..........Cesare Valletti
Dr. Bartolo.............Fernando Corena
Don Basilio.............Cesare Siepi
Berta...................Jean Madeira
Fiorello................George Cehanovsky
Sergeant................Alessio De Paolis
Ambrogio................Cyril Ritchard [Debut]
Notary..................Rudolf Mayreder

Conductor...............Alberto Erede

Director................Cyril Ritchard [Debut]
Designer................Eugene Berman

Il Barbiere di Siviglia received fourteen performances this season.

[From this date onward, until 1/23/71, the selection sung by Rosina in the Lesson Scene was Contro un cor, the aria originally written by Rossini for this episode.]


Review of Olin Downes in The New York Times:

In describing a superlative performance, one searches in the mind for comparisons as measuring rods of excellence. It is to be said that the performance of Rossini's "Barber of Seville" last night at the Metropolitan Opera House ranks as far and away the most brilliant, artistic, and amusing that has been given in thirty years of opera in this city.

These are not the days of purportedly great singing, but the presentation last night was accomplished by an all star cast, one that would have not have paled by comparison with other historic interpretations of the leading roles in Metropolitan history. This would be especially true of the Rosina of Roberta Peters, sung with phenomenal mastery and virtuosity, and Cesare Valleti's Almaviva, unsurpassed for elegance, finish and spirit in any "Barber" that he writer has seen on an American stage.

But the whole cast was masterful, vocally admirable, expert, adroit, and very funny and never cheap or merely farsical in its witty stage business. Not the least feature of the cast in this respect was the pompous, solemn, absurd servingman personified by Cyril Ritchard, the very accomplished producer of the show.

The performance was singularly unified, spontaneous, and gay. Every singing actor who came on the stage seemed in the highest spirits and certain of the effect he or she was to make. The reaction of the audience was in tune with the quality of the show. There was constant applause. Mr. Merrill's "Largo al factotum," delivered with uncommon dash and bravura, was the occasion of the first salvo. Cesare Siepi's "Calumny" aria temporarily stopped the performance. Who will ever forget the figure he cut with his hawk's nose, huge black mortar hat, scrawny neck and mincing gait like a long-legged crow.

When Miss Peters sang "Una voce poco fa," - interweaving with it, as all good coloratura sopranos may be permitted to do, some of her own ornamentations, scales, staccati, trills and roulades-she did so with a sureness and audacity that dazzled the ears but were part and parcel of the charm and piquancy of her entire impersonation. The performance again came to a pause while the audience applauded and cheered.

It went on like that. Fernando Corena's buffo part of Dr. Bartolo was appropriately ludicrous and laughable; at the same time it was extremely well sung. He could falsetto in mimicking Rosina and all that; he was every moment the accomplished artist. And for once the maid, Berta, was not a mere stop-gap or bridge to the performances of other persons on the stage. She was a character, fussy and funny, with a good voice and significantly a part of the play.

Furthermore, we heard the opera with only Rossini's music. It has always been the custom for the lady star of the cast to "interpolate" a favorite show-piece of her own in the music-lesson scene. The piece selected ranged all the way from the Proch "Air and Variations" of Grisi and Alboni to Melba's "Se seran rose" and Patti's "Home Sweet Home."

But last night Miss Peters sang in this scene the duet that Rossini himself composed for the opera in 1820, four years after its première, as an addition to the score, which had left this place open for the "star" to use what vocal "vehicle" she pleased.

It is of course a florid and difficult air with a few notes for the tenor, Almaviva, to make it a duet designed for a mistress of the vocal arts, as Miss Peters so remarkably proved herself last night to be. For she is now not only a brilliant technician, but a finished stylist. Before this, she has given repeated evidence of her vocal ability and high intelligence. With this perfecting of the Rossini role Miss Peters has fully and incontrovertibly "arrived."

Mr. Bing has sought long and hard to "renovate" old operas of the repertory in point of action and scenic setting, and thus to given them fresh eloquence and appeal for modern audience. Often he has failed, or his lieutenants have failed to accomplish this result and have only distorted masterpieces in the process. But Mr. Ritchard's dramatic direction of "The Barber" more than justifies itself, where this work of Rossini's is concerned. It is first-rate entertainment. It is a realization, not violation, of the essential ideas of composer and librettist, in new ways that make for high and distinguished standards of the musico-dramatic art.


Review of Virgil Thomson in the Herald Tribune:

SLOW AND ROWDY

Rossini's "Barber of Seville," in the new production shown last night at the Metropolitan Opera, is good to look at and fair to hear. Its scenery and costumes by Eugene Berman are symphonies in color, fanciful of design, and ever so Spanish. They should be pleasing for as long as they shall physically last. These are operatic mounting at its best.

The singing is all good too. Roberta Peters, as Rosina, rips out scales like a keyed instrument. Cesare Valletti, as her suitor, sings his on pitch too and with real elegance of phrase-turning. Cesare Siepi makes noble sounds as Don Basilio. Jean Madeira, as the housekeeper, gives out a rich alto. Fernando Corena, as Dr. Bartolo, is perfect, because he really acts too. Robert Merrill, as Figaro, is less satisfactory vocally, but his musical work is careful and not ineffective. Albert Erede, conducting, is unconscionably slow as to pacing but his orchestra plays clearly and with exquisite balance. The only major musical fault, save for a lack of ultimate brilliance that the conductor's dilatory timing produces, is a certain coarseness of sound in the vocal ensemble. And that can be corrected.

If the production lacks style, that is largely the fault, I think of its stage director, Cyril Ritchard, who has conceived it as a rowdy English farce rather than as commedia dell' arte. Fernando Corena alone, as Dr. Bartolo, clowns in the grand Italian manner and makes us believe in his reality. The others flounce about naturalistically and produce no illusion at all. Merrill is never still. Miss Peters is saucy like a night club soubrette. Siepi, as the music teacher, climbs over furniture. Valletti, as a young officer in love is about as romantic as any other inveterate practical joker. Beaumarchais's witty play has humanity, and so does the sharply characterized clowning in Rossini's opera. The present stage version is a general rough-house, little more. Nor have the masses been handled very imaginatively, neither the street musicians of the first act nor the soldiers of the second. Mr. Ritchard himself plays the silent roles of a servant who is apparently a British butler.

The audience last night applauded violently (there may even have been a claque present) and roared with laughter throughout. The show seemed to be having a huge success. Myself I found it depressing, had already found it lifeless at the dress rehearsal. I took the staging for erroneously conceived and the acting of everybody save Corena for undistinguished. I wanted the work to sparkle and shine. I wanted a style and a precision on the dramatic rendering comparable to the high polish and sharp edges of the musical score, something worthy of Beaumarchais, of Rossini's music and of the Berman sets. I did not get it. Apparently others got, if not that, something they were royally pleased with. They were luckier than I.

Production photos of Il Barbiere di Siviglia



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