[Met Performance] CID:267550
New production
Il Barbiere di Siviglia {372} Metropolitan Opera House: 02/15/1982.

(Debut: Enzo Dara, John Cox, Robin Wagner

Metropolitan Opera House
February 15, 1982
New production


Figaro..................Pablo Elvira
Rosina..................Marilyn Horne
Count Almaviva..........Rockwell Blake
Dr. Bartolo.............Enzo Dara [Debut]
Don Basilio.............Ara Berberian
Berta...................Loretta Di Franco
Fiorello................James Courtney
Sergeant................Charles Anthony
Ambrogio................Peter Sliker

Conductor...............Andrew Davis

Production..............John Cox [Debut]
Set designer............Robin Wagner [Debut]
Costume designer........Patricia Zipprodt
Lighting designer.......Gil Wechsler

[In this season's performances of Barbiere, Rosina sang Contro un cor in the Lesson Scene.]

Production gift of the Gramma Fisher Foundation, Marshalltown, Iowa

Review of Irving Kolodin in Newsday

Scenically speaking, the Metropolitan Opera's new production of Rossini's "Il Barbiere di Siviglia," which had its first performance Monday night, is something more eye catching, fetchingly Sevillian than anything provided there in years. Vocally, much depended on which of the civilians onstage was in focus at the time when the composer's famously difficult but latently ear-filling requirements were central. Well, the educated-operatically educated-are inclined to say, "This is the 'Barber,' isn't it, and that is the title role, so who is he and who is with him?"

The cast does include Marilyn Horne, and shouldn't it be a premise that she should be performing the title role? She did so in Bizet's "Carmen," and in Rossini's "L'Italiana in Algeri," in which she created such great vocal fun. Here, however, she is Rosina, which is fine as far as it goes, but it doesn't go quite far enough. She is the original kind of Rossini-Rosina, which is to say, in the mezzo register for which he wrote the part. She might even make a try sometime at singing the music for the barber Figaro, matching voice ranges as it does.

But the top probability is that when this project was crafted several years ago, the title role of Figaro was meant for Sherill Milnes, who sang it a dozen Met years before. This season, however, he has been warding off usage of a voice which has not been in its prime condition, so the Figaro was Pablo Elvira, a competent, workable baritone of parts -- comic as well as serious-who is a good "cover" when the man with the big sound and the fine technique isn't working. But he doesn't have a big sound, and the technique, while dependable, is a might marginal for the man who comes on booming his name "Figaro!"

So the fine scenic design by Robin Wagner of Broadway fame ("A Chorus Line" "42nd Street," even "Jesus Christ Superstar"), which employs a spacious turntable for excellent exposure of all the scenes, puts a precise question to Horne: "Are you a Rosina capable of making it all worthwhile?" From the moment she made her appearance with one of' the most famous of operatic entrance pieces ("Una voce poca fa"), the sure answer was, "Yes, Yes, Yes," From such soprano star Rosinas as Amelita Galli-Curci to Lily Pons to the recent Anna Moffo, this has been a Hall (of fame) qualification. "Do it well, and you're in."

In recent years, it has also been sung by such contemporary mezzos as Giulietta Simionato and Teresa Berganza. But Horne simply surpasses all of them for a sure, if rather subtle, reason. When she was growing up, she aspired to be a soprano. And, as her evening's effort demonstrated time and again, she can lighten her normally dark sound, take the throb out of the throat, and make the tone float out as the ward of an elderly Dr. Batolo should-youthful, impulsive, even virginal.

With a cast to match such quality, the kind of Rossini that Horne was singing and that Andrew Davis was conducting (from a good, sprightly overture) would have even satisfied the musical standards of' William Fisher, whose Gramma Fisher Foundation put up the money for a scenic showpiece that is both spectacular and functional. But it was not, this time, to be. The director of the production is the English-born John Cox, who before this Met debut, has made a New York reputation for work at the City Opera. He is best known, however, for quality results at the Glyndebourne Opera on England's Sussex Downs. My impression, from the work of other male singers, beyond Elvira, is that they would have worked fine at the intimate Glyndebourne, but lacked anything like the output that the Met demands. That includes Rockwell Blake, as Count Almaviva (in pursuit of Rosina), whose tenor sound, though a flexible instrument, is insubstantial; Enzo Dara, the new Italian baritone whose Bartolo was more often spoken than sung, and the marginally audible Ara Berberian in the famous comic role of Don Basilio.

Make a note that this is a surpassingly successful "II Barbiere" scenically and that the artistry of Horne is something to cherish. When, as seems likely, cast changes strengthen the voices where they are now inadequate, the whole may become as good as some of its parts deserve. For the moment, however, it may be observed that the great operatic predecessor on the subject of the Beaumarchais story, to which Rossini responded with such superb success was Wolfgang Mozart's "The. Marriage of Figaro." (Given the kind of soprano sound Horne can now provide, what a Rosina (Countess) in the Mozart score she could make! Such a "double" has been tried from time to time, but her present equipment merits the effort now.

Review of Robert Jacobson in April 17, 1982 Opera News

"Il Barbiere" (February 15) proved more puzzling, for John Cox' production in Robin Wagner's clever revolving stage managed to bypass the very essence of the work - comedy. It's one thing to want to be rid of opera buffa clichés, but a director has to substitute something in their stead. Cox updated the work to Rossini's own period - picturesque in terms of costuming, carried out by Patricia Zipprodt with mixed results - and seemed to be aiming for a mild comedy of manners. Opera buffa is, after all, an extension of human truths, and because of this it endures, barnacles and all. Hilarity came at a premium, as did specific characterizations - instead we had nice, normal, boring citizens of Seville - a meek, wan Bartolo, his downfall ultimately neither amusing nor touching, a Count Almaviva without elegance or dash.

Marilyn Horne does not come by the girlish charm of Rosina easily, and her matronly, slightly tough approach to the role challenges a director. Only Pablo Elvira suggested a semblance of real character, strutting his stuff during "Largo al factotum" and playing with a warm Mediterranean stylishness. High spirits were in short supply, and matters plowed along, sometimes interminably, until the finale.

Part of the problem lay with the conducting of Andrew Davis, whose overture conveyed expansive lyricism, rhythmic preciseness and polish, his orchestra playing with sheen. But these very virtues became debits as the opera progressed. Davis' meticulousness - yea, finickiness - let us hear every peep of the piccolo, every violin grace note in the Zedda edition, but "Il Barbiere" needs more. Miss Horne sang superbly, her coloratura spectacular, her legato line a joy, her command of the vocal style complete and authoritative. Elvira's Figaro displayed theater-filling top tones at the expense of clarity throughout the range. Enzo Dara's Bartolo blended smallness of bass voice with dullness of sound and bland presence. Ara Berberian's "La Calunia" went for little, his tone dry, clumsy and gritty, and he made little of this outrageous character. Rockwell Blake again demonstrated astonishing fleetness with high notes and agility, but the uningratiating tenor quality remains. Loretta Di Franco made a fine Berta. Wagner's revolving pastel set stressed the Moorish influence in Seville, with stucco façades, grillwork, domes and the rest. The prettiest section seemed to be the lacy central atrium, which went unused; in fact the set served more as background, since Cox staged the action in front of rather than in the set. The carouseling set for the Act II storm offered a delightful interlude.

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