[Met Performance] CID:319310
Il Barbiere di Siviglia {468} Metropolitan Opera House: 02/6/1995.

(Debuts: Jeffrey Black, Jennifer Larmore

Metropolitan Opera House
February 6, 1995


Figaro..................Jeffrey Black [Debut]
Rosina..................Jennifer Larmore [Debut]
Count Almaviva..........Stanford Olsen
Dr. Bartolo.............Enzo Dara
Don Basilio.............Nicolai Ghiaurov
Berta...................Jane Shaulis
Fiorello................Richard Byrne
Sergeant................Charles Anthony
Ambrogio................Barry Brandes

Conductor...............David Atherton

Production..............John Cox
Stage Director..........Michael Edwards
Set designer............Robin Wagner
Costume designer........Patricia Zipprodt
Lighting designer.......Gil Wechsler

Il Barbiere di Siviglia received five performances this season.

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

Review of Joseph H. Mazo in the Hackensack (N. J.) Record

Figaro, si, Figaro, no: Met's 'Barbiere" is a mixed bag

American mezzo-soprano Jennifer Larmore made a striking Metropolitan Opera debut Monday night in the season's first performance of "Il Barbiere di Siviglia," and Australian baritone Jeffrey Black made a solid but less satisfying one.

Yet Figaro and friends failed to romp though Seville with the energy and lyrical charm inherent in Rossini's score. From the overture onward, David Atherton's conducting, crisp and precise though it was, lacked effervescence.

John Cox's production, introduced in 1982, is definitely a charmer. Robin Wagner's sets, Patricia Zipprodt's costumes, and Gil Wechsler's lighting combine to present a make-believe Spanish city as carefully artificial as Rossini's music. (For those who insist on reality, there's a real horse to pull a cartload of musicians on stage during the first scene.)

Everything about the production, including the many turns of the revolving stage during the storm scene, is designed to contribute to a feeling of cheerful good humor. On Monday night, though, the theatrical magic was subdued.

Perhaps it was the inescapable influence of a harsh February night; perhaps it was the nervousness of the two debut artists - because the performance did become more spirited and better coordinated after the intermission - but the music often sounded too carefully measured out, and the joyous quality of the opera seldom asserted itself fully.

Larmore's mezzo-soprano is big and rich. The mezzo, winner of the 1994 Richard Tucker Award, has a surprisingly dark voice; the low register displays a dramatic, smoky quality that at first seems a bit too sultry for a lovesick young girl like Rosina. At the beginning, Larmore's clear high notes seemed oddly disconnected from that dark lower register, but the full voice soon came into focus.

What makes Larmore remarkable is that her voice combines power, that dark timbre, and tremendous flexibility. She trills easily, and she trips neatly up and down scales like a child playing on the stairs.

However, on Monday night the mezzo's singing and acting were mannered. Her "Una voce poco fa" was elegantly sung, but the phrasing lacked freedom and charm. This was a soprano performing an aria, not a young girl rhapsodizing over newfound love. Larmore grew less deliberate as the opera went on; perhaps now that her Met debut has been accomplished, she'll feel free to concentrate less on singing and more on making music.

Black's Figaro is young, virile, and very much the showman. He enjoys manipulating people and making sure we know how very clever he is. Yet the baritone's cheerful swagger seemed self-conscious and so, much of the time, did his singing.

"Largo al factotum" - Figaro's famous calling-card of an aria -lacked the winning, careless brilliance it should have. Black's voice is strong and pleasant but it doesn't have the rich, glamorous sound or the easy flexibility displayed by Seville's truly great barbers.

Another problem was that Black's baritone is relatively dark, while Stanford Olsen's tenor is distinctively light. As a result, the Figaro-Almaviva duet in Act 1 was out of balance.

Olsen is utterly comfortable with this kind of music, although he didn't sound quite as secure as usual just at the beginning. The voice is sweet, and Olsen negotiates the runs and frills of Almaviva's music smoothly and assuredly His young, amorous count was convincingly passionate and convincingly arrogant, too.

Enzo Dara was a delightful Dr. Bartolo. In his 18th-century costume, bespectacled and be-wigged, the bass managed to look remarkably like a frog who can't understand why he hasn't yet turned into a handsome prince. Dara's singing had precisely the right style and his acting was more convincing than anyone else's in the cast.

The veteran bass Nicolai Ghiaurov made a pedestrian Don Basilio. He sang the gloriously gloating aria "La calunia" without projecting any real sense of malice - or of fun - and for the first part of it he seemed to find it difficult to match tempos with the conductor.

Despite Olsen's elegant singing and Larmore's fine debut, this "Barber" needed a lot more tonic.

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