Fathom Events' "Barber of Seville": Splitting Heirs

Screened at Regal Cinema in Kingston; Encore screening Wed.  Nov 26th

The Cast of "Barber of Seville"
(photo: Metropolitan Opera)

The latest Fathom Events offering in its ongoing live HD broadcasts from the stage of the Metropolitan Opera in New York is the revival of the 2006 production by Bartlett Sher of Rossini’s 1816 opera buffa “Barber of Seville”. A perennial audience favorite since its premiere at the Met in its inaugural season in 1883, this opera has been presented more than six hundred times in the house and on tour. All this is in spite of the fact that its plot, even for an opera, is about as convoluted as it gets.

What’s at stake in this opera is who will inherit the hand of the fair damsel without having to play Solomon and split her in two. The libretto by Cesare Sterbini after the French play by Beaumarchais is probably familiar to most audience members, but in case a refresher could come in handy, herewith is a brief synopsis. In Seville, Count Almaviva (the diminutive tenor with a great coloratura voice, Lawrence Brownlee) serenades Rosina under the balcony of the room where she is confined (wonderfully sung and acted by mezzo-soprano Isabel Leonard, the Cherubino just last month in the HD broadcast of the Met’s “Marriage of Figaro”), who is the ward of Dr. Bartolo (bass baritone Maurizio Muraro, perfect for this role). The titular barber Figaro (Baritone Christopher Maltman, with impeccable timing and diction) offers to help the count disguise himself as a soldier with orders to be quartered in Bartolo’s house. Rosina’s music teacher Don Basilio (the shrewd bass Paata Burchuladze) warns Bartolo about the count and urges the good doctor to marry his ward with all due haste. When the count arrives disguised as a drunken soldier requiring billeting in Bartolo’s house he passes a note to Rosina. He’s about to be arrested by the local civil guard but is freed when he divulges his true identity, surprising everyone but the all-knowing Figaro. Later the count returns, again disguised, this time as Rosina’s substitute music teacher. While Bartolo snoozes, the count and Rosina rhapsodize about their mutual love. Figaro then arrives to shave Bartolo and manages to steal his house keys. Bartolo summons Basilio to bring a notary for his proposed marriage to Rosina. She is shown a note from a mythical student Lindoro in the presence of the notary (actually the count, his third or fourth disguise, but who’s counting?) that seems to prove that she’s been deceived, and thus she agrees to marry Bartolo. But the count reveals his true identity at last and claims Rosina as his bride. All celebrate their great good fortune including, unaccountably, Bartolo. And, yes, it’s complicated, and no, it really doesn’t make much sense.

What does make sense is that this all occurs with the most sublimely wonderful music, gorgeously sung and whimsically performed. The leads are all in fine voice and enact their roles with appropriate gusto. The fine ensemble also includes the roles of Fiorello (baritone Yunpeng Wang), Berta (soprano Claudia Waite, a standout), a Sergeant (tenor Dennis Petersen) and the mute role of Ambrogio (a hilariously deadpan Rob Besserer). Conducted by Michele Mariotti, the Met Orchestra was once again invaluable, frequently highlighting refined individual playing on cello and viola. Very ably directed for Live Cinema by Matthew Diamond, and introduced by HD Host Deborah Voigt, the production offered fluid if spare Set Design by Michael Yeargan, clever Costume Design by Catherine Zuber, effective Lighting design by Christopher Akerlind, and as usual terrific support from the Met Chorus under the direction of Chorus Master Donald Palumbo.

Once again, audiences were transported not just to the stage of the opera house, and to balmy Seville, but to operatic heaven at a fraction of the cost of an opera house ticket. And next up is Wagner’s “Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg”, which, if one were paying for by the minute, these days would probably mean having to sell the kids into slavery. Fathom Events HD broadcasts continue to be the biggest bargain in entertainment, with the possible exception of your Uncle Harry’s lampshade routine at the family’s dinner table at Thanksgiving.

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