What’s Up Rossini? Idiots at the Opera: Il Barbiere di Siviglia

For those of us of a certain age, for whom the nanny was a television set, Il Barbiere di Siviglia will always be linked with Bugs Bunny’s infamous Rabbit of Seville – which features its own special brand of buffa set to the tune of Rossini’s overture. As soon as the orchestra began my brain was already in Looney Tunes mode and I could see Bugs in drag, hear his lyrics, “Can’t you see that I’m much sweeta? I’m your little senor-it-a”

Bugs and Figaro have a lot in common. Both are tricksters out for their own survival but mostly on the side of good.

For those of you unfamiliar, here’s the elevator version of the story: Figaro is a barber – also a “jack of all trades, fixer, veterinarian, health care provider (enemas might be a speciality). He runs into his former patron, Count Almavina, who is wooing Rosina although Rosina doesn’t know the Count’s true identity. Rosina’s lecherous guardian, Dr. Bartolo is hoping to marry her. Figaro helps the Count in his pursuit and plan to get Rosina away from the not so good doctor.

The staging of this version, by Bartlett Sher, seems to be going for the antic, but I didn’t find it quite antic enough. I’m not sure what was missing, but some energy or cohesion seemed to be lacking, so despite a few fine performances it moved a bit slow. The first acts end with a literal anvil dropping down and I wasn’t sure what that was even about. It was abstract and meta – a comment on the cartoon like aspect of this form of comic opera, maybe? But for me, the joke didn’t land, and what should have been lively first act finale lagged.

In the second act, there was a more subtle Easter Egg for Looney Tunes fan, unless I’m reading too much into it. Sometimes a carrot, is just a carrot.

Yunpeng Wang, a young artist new to the Met, was in the small role of Almaviva’s servant, Fiorello. He has a large voice and presence. It would not be surprising to see him graduate to larger roles soon. Isabel Leonard was outstanding as both a singer and an actor as Rosina. She was a delight. There’s an aria in the first act that would be almost a throwaway, Una Voce Poco Fa, had she not so completely nailed it. Film buffs may recognize the song. It was the one Susan Alexander sings to Charles Foster Kane on the night that they meet. Christopher Maltman making his role debut was very good – if not great as Figaro. Given the tenors who’ve played the part, those are some big boots to fill, and he didn’t seem quite there yet. Lawrence Brownlee as the Count lacked power in the first act, though he picked up a bit in the second and had the audience cheering him on. Maurizio Muraro as Dr. Bartolo was exceptionally comfortable in the role.

It’s a strange feeling seeing the prequel second. Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro features many of the same characters some years later. Almaviva and Rosina are so wonderfully and operatically in love in Il Barbiere, yet we know that in a few years the Count will be lusting after Figaro’s fiancée, and Rosina will have her own boy toy.

Overall this was an entertaining, but not an outstanding production. It may be worth going for Isabel Leonard alone although I doubt this will be her last outing in the role. It’s entirely possible to stage classic buffa and still have it appear fresh. Last year’s production of Falstaff was as example. For whatever reasons, this version of Il Barbiere falls short.

Taking you out, here is the full version of the Rabbit of Seville:

(If you enjoyed this or any post even a little bit, you might maybe want to check out Marion’s literary work or even just click on any of “my picks” above and then Jeff Bezo’s will give Marion some pocket change with which she will purchase heating oil this winter. Thank you very much.)