A new Count and Rosina highlight Met’s “Barber” revival

October 02, 2011
By Susan Hall

Isabel Leonard as Rosina and Javier Camarena as Count Almaviva in Rossini’s “Il Barbiere di Siviglia.” Photo: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera

The Metropolitan Opera revived its staging of Bartlett Sher’s 2006 production of Il Barbiere di Siviglia, opening the fall performance run at Saturday’s matinee.

Most attention in this revival focused on singers new to the cast in the roles of Rosina and Count Almaviva.  Isabel Leonard, a homegrown New York talent, has “the package” – a lovely voice, stage presence and good looks and seems perfect for the willful, beautiful, and manipulative Rosina. Leonard’s singing is vibrant and open, although, though the voice tends to recede as she reaches for high notes.  Leonard possesses the requisite agility and accuracy yet whether she will develop the heft, flexibility and dramatic nuance of Joyce DiDonato and Jennifer Larmore in this role remains to be seen. She clearly enjoyed the role, hamming it up, but never crossing the line of good taste.  A saucy and cunning Rosina, she is a pleasure to watch.

Javier Camarena delivered an equally spirited calling card for his Metropolitan Opera debut.  As Count Almaviva, he commanded attention from his opening aria, Ecco ridente in cielo. Camarena’s voice is rich and full, particularly in the middle range. He is in complete control of the arc of the vocal line and brings an attentively detailed but fluid performance both to the music and his physical movement.  The tenor was given the Count’s Cessa di piu resistere, often omitted because of its difficulty, rendered by Camarena with delightful vocal decorations.

On the comedy side, Camarena is not as over the top as Juan Diego Florez, but he is charming and allows us to relish Almaviva’s antics. The house went wild for Camarena, particularly after his tour de force turn at the end of the second act.

Some veteran Barbiere cast members returned to the revival.  Peter Mattei, the big-voiced, confident baritone, has sung Figaro regularly at the Met.  Mattei’s Figaro is a witty and gregarious rogue, with a warm and glowing sound.

Ron Besserer, the actor who was Sher’s original Ambrogio, a gaga valet, does not utter a word, but he captivates with deft and shrewd ploys.  The entire cast worked well as an ensemble, poking fun at the political and social mores of the day.

The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra was conducted with idiomatic Italian exuberance by Maurizio Benini.

In Barbiere di Siviglia runs through Oct. 29 and from Feb. 4-18 with a different cast. metopera.org.

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