Il Barbiere di Siviglia

Music by Gioacchino Rossini
Metropolitan Opera
13 March 2000

Count Almaviva:
Dr. Bartolo:
Don Basilio:
Michael Schade
Thomas Hampson
Paul Plishka
Sonia Ganassi
Egils Silins (Début)
Claudia Waite
Conductor: Bruno Campanella

Monday, March 13, brought out the first performance, this season, of Rossini's most popular opera. The production, which has been around for several years, remains sparkling and is one of the Met's cleverest shows. The conductor, Bruno Campanella, who made his début earlier this season conducting Rossini's La Cenerentola, kept the orchestra as light and bubbly as it needed to be while fully supporting his singers, drowning out no-one and remaining in complete control of his forces. I look forward to hearing much more from him in the bel canto repertoire, apparently his specialty. Let's just hope the Met keeps bel canto works on its boards so that we may continue hearing the work of this fine conductor.

Michael Schade is just about everything one might want in a Count Almaviva, ease with the role's tessitura and mastery of its coloratura requirements. While I, personally, found some of his hand and arm movements somewhere between stilted and precious, and his concern with his buck teeth and glasses as Don Alonso somewhat distracting, I found his singing absolutely faultless. I somehow remember him being one of the five tenors in the live recording of Rossini's Armida with Renée Fleming; his artistry was as impressive last evening as I remember it to be in the Italian recording with Fleming.

Thomas Hampson never ceases to amaze me. His Figaro is as young, dashing, exciting and eager today, in mid-career, as I am sure it was at the beginning-and think how much more he knows now!  Not a blustery Figaro, Hampson sings and acts the role with subtlety, love and carefree humor, totally in command of its vocal and histrionic requirements. His opening aria, "Largo al factotum", was done with both the requisite egocentrism and vocal ease one expects of a top-notch Figaro. Furthermore, the duets between him and Schade in Act I, Scene 1 and his Scene 2 duet with Rosina, Dunqu'io son, were a joy to the ear as well as to the eye.

As Don Bartolo, Paul Plishka was a "last minute replacement" for John Del Carlo, who was indisposed. And we could not have hoped for a better replacement. Gone was any trace of Plishka's "walk-through" wobble that so often intrudes upon his sonorously beautiful basso at this point in his career. By taking on the buffo roles at this time, Plishka regales us with yet another aspect of his talent and artistry.

A talented comedienne, dedicated to expressing the Commedia del Arte aspects of the show, Sonia Ganassi was also able to overcome any of the coloratura hurdles presented by the role of Rosina. To me, however, her voice is less appealing than I would have liked. She has apparently sung the major bel canto coloratura mezzo roles all over the world, and her technical ease as Rosina is impressive. There is, however, what, for lack of a better term, I can only call a "covered" quality to her voice that I find unappealing. Furthermore, to these ears, it sounded like she often came in under a note, regaining control and moving up to it. That she can do that is, I'm sure, laudable; that she has to is, in my opinion, not.

The role of Berta, Bartolo's housekeeper, was handled masterfully by Claudia Waite, someone of whom I had never heard before this performance. Although hers is not a ringing, star-quality voice, it is very well trained. She acquitted herself extremely well in both the ensembles and in her solo aria. Is she going to move on to major roles, or will she become a beloved comprimaria in the vein of Thelma Votipka, that famous stalwart of the Old Met? Whatever she decides or her career brings, she certainly will have my support.

This brings us to the evening's débutant. Egil Silins, Latvian basso, as Don Basilio, whose Calumny aria usually brings down the house. It did not quite do so last evening. A rather short man, he plays the role as a cunning, cautious cat rather than an overpowering and comico/fear-inspiring presence. He certainly has all the notes, even though some of the lower ones could not be heard over the carefully controlled orchestra. I must assume that all the European houses in which he has sung Raimondo, Attila, Boris Godunov, Méphistophélès, Sarastro and Sparafucile are considerably smaller than the Met. I am certainly open to hearing more of this well-trained artist and changing my opinion. After a first hearing in the house, however, I must conclude that his voice is too small for the role at the Metropolitan Opera. Oh, where are the Siepis, Raimondis, Rameys and Furlanettos when we need them?

All in all, however, the evening was great fun, with some fine singing and singers whose enjoyment portraying these characters was well picked up by the appreciative audience.

Howard in Brooklyn

Literary content:
Copyright:  © 2000 Howard Levin

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