Il barbiere di Siviglia, New York Metropolitan Opera, November 2006
Photo by Sepp Gallauer

'Siviglia' Premiere Shows Met on a Roll, Associated Press, 11 November 2006
The Barber of Seville, Variety, 12 November 2006
A Dull Blade, New York Post, 13 November 2006
Figaro as a Big-Time Operator, With a Wily Rosina, New York Times, 13 November 2006
Despite budget, 'Barber' cuts a sumptuous, luxuriant sound, Newsday, 13 November 2006
Il barbiere di Siviglia, Metropolitan Opera, New York, Financial Times, 13 November 2006
Flórez seduce a lo Broadway, La Razón, 13 November 2006
Juan Diego triunfante, El Comercio, 14 November 2006
Razzle-Dazzle Rossini, New York Magazine, 27 November 2006
A New Barber For a New Met, New York Sun, 22 November 2006
Handsome, Athletic Tenor, Hungry for Superstardom, New York Observer, 21 November 2006

'Siviglia' Premiere Shows Met on a Roll
Mike Silverman, The Associated Press, 11 November 2006

From Letterman to Lincoln Center doesn't seem like such a stretch for the merry performers in the Metropolitan Opera's new production of Rossini's "Il Barbiere di Siviglia."

Friday night's premiere was the latest sign that the company's new boss, Peter Gelb, is infusing sorely needed theatrical pizzazz into the staid Met without sacrificing musical values.

Gelb's first such move was to import filmmaker Anthony Minghella's production of Puccini's "Madama Butterfly" from London to open the season. That production is still playing to sold-out houses, and this one will likely be doing the same.

And why not? The new "Barbiere" is fast, funny, well-sung _ even sexy.

Rossini's best-known work has been an audience favorite since its premiere 190 years ago and has always been a repertory mainstay at the Met. But the old production by John Cox had grown stale after 25 seasons, and a new version was planned even while former Met general manager Joseph Volpe was still in charge. Gelb was invited to find his own stage director and hired Bartlett Sher, whose recent New York work includes "The Light in the Piazza" and "Awake and Sing."

Sher has been quoted as saying he reads neither music nor Italian, but he brings a fresh eye to opera and understands a fundamental rule of farce _ the more ridiculous the situation, the more the characters must take it seriously. The humor in this "Barbiere" springs from the plot and carries through the music, with little of the mugging and slapstick that often pass for wit on an opera stage.

With help from set designer Michael Yeargan (his collaborator as well on "Piazza" and "Awake and Sing"), Sher has moved some of the action to a rectangular walkway _ known as a passerelle _ built to extend from the stage out in front of the orchestra pit. This allows the characters to make frequent forays into the auditorium, almost like theater-in-the-round. That's a big plus in a house as big as the Met.

Yeargan's designs include a series of doors that rearrange themselves as the scene changes from the street to inside the house of the pompous Dr. Bartolo, who is keeping his ward, Rosina, locked up so he can prevent her from running off with a young admirer and marry her himself. Needless to say, his scheme is foiled. With the help of Figaro, the barber and jack of all trades, Rosina finds happiness with her suitor (who turns out to be Count Almaviva, a nobleman, not a poor student as she thought.)

Besides the doors there are orange trees, to remind us we're in sunny Seville, and a traveling caravan with a real donkey in tow that provides a colorful conveyance for Figaro to enter and sing his famous "Largo al factotum." Catherine Zuber's warm-hued, elaborate costumes and Christopher Akerlind's lighting, with its clever mix of sunlight and shadows, add to the fun.

Underscoring the showbiz savvy that's the hallmark of Gelb's young regime, the Met arranged for the cast of "Barbiere" to appear on the "Late Show" with David Letterman on Wednesday night to sing an excerpt from the opera's first-act finale.

And what a cast!

In the title role, Swedish baritone Peter Mattei exudes charisma and confidence and shows a flair for comic timing. His burnished sound is familiar to Met audiences, but his dexterity in Rossini's rapid twists and turns comes as a delightful surprise.

Juan Diego Florez, the Peruvian tenor who specializes in Rossini, carries off the role of Almaviva with staggering aplomb. As it did for his debut nearly five years ago, the Met has restored Almaviva's big aria near the end of the opera, "Cessa di piu resistere." It's a show-stopping moment in two respects: Florez gets to wow the audience with his phenomenal technique, but the long number brings the action to a halt just at the point of resolution.

In Diana Damrau, the Met has a Rosina with an edge. The German soprano has a sweet sound and a powerhouse upper register, as she showed last season in her debut as Zerbinetta in Strauss' "Ariadne auf Naxos." She's also no timid ingenue; there's a toughness and feistiness that shines through in her personality, as well as a sexual exuberance. (For purists who prefer to hear the role sung by a lower voice, as Rossini originally wrote it, the much-praised American mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato will take the part later in the season.)

Joining these three glamorous young soloists, bass-baritone John Del Carlo, looking agreeably foolish in a large white wig, sang and acted a definitive Dr. Bartolo. Bass Samuel Ramey brought luster to the small role of the double-crossing music teacher, Don Basilio, and mezzo Wendy White joined the fun as the snuff-addicted maid, Berta.

Maurizio Benini kept the orchestra percolating nicely.

The Barber of Seville
Robert Hofler, Variety, 12 November 2006

You saw the preview Nov. 8 on "The Late Show With David Letterman"; now see Rossini's entire opera at the. That seems to be the populist approach the new general manager, Peter Gelb, has taken to getting auds into Bartlett Sher's debut production with the company, "The Barber of Seville."

Gelb is definitely on a PR roll after kicking off the season with Anthony Minghella's super-popular "Madama Butterfly" staging, which scored with the media and public but essentially offered a mediocre night, vocally, at the opera. Sher, fortunately, gets it right on both counts. His "Barber" is one for opera aficionados who, first and foremost, want Rossini's notes delivered with rat-a-tat-tat precision. On that score, Sher's cast never fails to hit the bull's-eye.

It's an added delight that these singer-actors are comic masters who physically fit their roles and are effectively supported by a low-tech, if not exactly high-concept, production. To say the "Barber" ensemble is Broadway-worthy is to underestimate its achievement and overpraise the current Rialto season.

Sher has reassembled the same design team he used for last season's Broadway revival of "Awake and Sing!" and that two years ago swept the Tonys with its evocative, melancholic staging of "The Light in the Piazza."

Here, they rightly eschew the romantic naturalism of the Adam Guettel musical for something a bit closer to the Keystone Kops. Yes, Christopher Akerlind bathes the stage in tones of sienna and bronze, and Catherine Zuber's costumes appear to be trying to bring back the 18th century in men's fashion. (Almaviva's ankle-length leather coat would look stunning on any contempo runway.)

This production, however, is defined by a simple set of 10 doors on runners moved manually around the stage to create interior spaces and garden walls.

It is a helmer masterstroke that Sher caps the evening by bringing his Almaviva, the great Peruvian tenor Juan Diego Florez, down in front of the conductor to finish the reinstated endurance test of an aria "Cessa di piu resistere." Rossini himself would have cheered.

In one respect, Rossini's florid vocal showcases are more about showing off than about telling the tale of the barber Figaro (Peter Mattei), who must act as go-between for the local count (Florez) and his beloved Rosina (Diana Damrau) in order to thwart the lecherous designs of Dr. Bartolo (John Del Carlo).

To Sher's credit, his staging often stresses the overall perfs over the individual vocal moments: From beginning to end, Del Carlo is every inch the satin-encrusted capon that Zuber's costumes indicate him to be, while the German-born Damrau offers a spot-on parody of Bernadette Peters, down to her mop of caramel curls.

If there's any fault with this production, it's a missed opportunity. Doors are to comedy what guns are to drama. If a revolver is placed on the mantle in the first act, it better go off in the last. Likewise, with 10 doors onstage, at some point all 10 doors should be opening or closing to great comic effect. That coup de theatre never arrives with this "Barber of Seville" -- but there's always next season.

A Metropolitan Opera presentation of an opera in two acts by Gioachino Rossini and Cesare Sterbini. Directed by Bartlett Sher. Conductor, Maurizio Benini.
Fiorello - Brian Davis
Count Almaviva - Juan Diego Florez
Figaro - Peter Mattei
Dr. Bartolo - John Del Carlo
Ambrogio - Rob Besserer
Rosina - Diana Damrau
Don Basilio - Samuel Ramey
Berta - Wendy White
An officer - Joel Sorensen

Sets, Michael Yeargan; costumes, Catherine Zuber; lighting, Christopher Akerlind. Opened, reviewed Nov. 10, 2006. Running time: 3 HOURS.

A Dull Blade
Clive Barnes, New York Post, 13 November 2006

Why, at the Metropolitan Opera, is the singing so often so much better than the staging? No, not just better, quite frequently in a different class.

It proved precisely that on Friday night with the brand-new production of Rossini's dear old "Il Barbiere di Seviglia" ("The Barber of Seville"). The singing was simply magnificent; the much-publicized production by Bartlett Sher was simply provincial.

In all fairness, this divergence is not just a malaise of the Met - for many years it has been running worldwide through opera houses like scarlet fever. And at least the Met, together with the unquestionable quality of its orchestra and chorus, customarily provides the very finest casts in current captivity.

Take this "Barber" as a paradigm of its brilliance - vocally, I doubt whether this particular opera will be matched anywhere in the world this season or for a few to come.

The leading quintet of singers, conducted with the right kind of deliberated gusto by Maurizio Benini, had almost perfect Rossinian bel canto style coupled with luckily unquenchable dramatic flair.

The Peruvian Juan Diego Florez - very much the star of the show - is understandably the reigning Rossini tenor, and, as Almaviva, his lean, yet eloquent, tone and his sure command of the shape of Rossini's phrasing were as superb as Diana Damrau's sweetly vixenish Rosina and Peter Mattei as the resourceful Figaro, who even handled his all but hackneyed cavatina - yes, that "Figaro, Figaro" - with rare elegance.

Equally in the down-swing of Rossini's marvelous crescendo for young lovers triumphing over old age were the geriatric losers, John Del Carlo's remarkably impressive Dr. Bartolo, and Samuel Ramey's now virtually classic slanderous Don Basilio.

The staging by Sher - a freshly fashionable director who, despite just a couple of well-received Broadway outings, owes his main experience to smaller-scaled regional theater - proved disappointingly dull.

Sher's use of what is apparently called a "paserelle" - a runway in front of the orchestra, the kind often used by Vegas showgirls and their ilk - while certainly original also seemed irrelevant, even distracting.

And his stage business - even introducing a mute, supposedly comic servant played with hang-dog fervor by dancer Rob Besserer - was as lackluster as Michael Yeargan's scenery, a strange assemblage of disconnected doors, ladders and ornamental orange plants in huge movable pots.

Not perhaps a particularly insightful view of Seville, despite its signature oranges, or of Rossini's "Barber," despite its superb singing.

Figaro as a Big-Time Operator, With a Wily Rosina
Anthony Tommasini, The New York Times, 13 November 2006

Rossini's "Barbiere di Siviglia" abounds in comic confusion. In the opening scene an amorous count in Seville has fallen at first sight for a feisty young beauty, who is kept under lock and key by her guardian, a pompous doctor. The count decides to pursue her disguised as a penniless but gallant student. From that point on, the confusions become increasingly perplexing and not always so funny. The society Rossini depicts is a place where aloof aristocrats, fawning professionals and even servants are so wary of one another that a cottage industry has arisen for oily go-betweens who will spy, scheme and transmit secret notes.

For the inventive, breezy new production of "Il Barbiere di Siviglia" at the Metropolitan Opera, which opened on Friday night and boasts a winning cast, the director Bartlett Sher, making his Met debut, has embraced the opera's atmosphere of intrigue and subterfuge. Michael Yeargan's set is an abstract matrix of movable doors, stairwells and potted orange trees that characters lurk behind as they listen in on conversations. Yet this is in no way an updated production. The costume designer, Catherine Zuber, has dressed the characters in colorful and sexy period garb with comic touches, like the disheveled, curly red wig worn by Rosina, the young heroine.

If not updated, the opera is freshened up by Mr. Sher, bringing his perspective as an acclaimed theater director best known to New Yorkers for "The Light in the Piazza." In a bold stroke, the stage is partly extended over the orchestra pit. Quite a bit of action takes place on this makeshift rectangular walkway, making possible some poignantly intimate moments. At the beginning of Act II, for example, the befuddled Dr. Bartolo  Rosina's suspicious guardian, who hopes to marry her himself  walks out between the Met's closed gold stage curtains and takes a seat on the walkway to vent his confusion directly to the audience.

The walkway does muffle the sound of the orchestra somewhat, and some subtleties in the conductor Maurizio Benini's stylish and fleet performance were lost. On the other hand it makes it easier for the singers to project.

In approaching the opera fresh, Mr. Sher has especially rethought the character of Figaro, the barber of the title, portrayed by the dashing Swedish baritone Peter Mattei. When he first appears to sing the famous "Largo al factotum," this Figaro is no struggling tradesman with a humble barber shop around the corner but a big-time operator with a huge wagon that serves as his shop, pulled by a live mule and, curiously, a bevy of women smitten with him.

Typically, Figaro sings this aria alone onstage. So when he claims that everyone in town wants him, everyone needs something from him, it comes across as an endearing boast. Mr. Mattei's Figaro has something of Don Giovanni about him. Still, the characterization, no doubt thanks to Mr. Sher's good coaching, pulls you right in. Mr. Mattei made a quick-witted, robust-voiced and agile Figaro, able to dash up a rickety ladder in a few courageous bounds.

Though Rosina was conceived for a mezzo-soprano, the role has long been appropriated also by sopranos, and the lovely German coloratura Diana Damrau was absolutely dazzling here. Interpolating extra-high roulades into the music, she brought her bright, clear and very sizable voice to the role, singing with impeccable accuracy and delightful impishness. This Rosina was no innocent. You immediately believed her when she explained in the touchstone aria "Una voce poca fa" that though for the most part she is a docile and obedient thing, when crossed in love she becomes a viper.

The popular, boyishly handsome tenor Juan Diego Flórez exuded youthful ardor and energy as Count Almaviva. He fearlessly dispatched Rossini's virtuosic runs and passagework. Still, though this may be a minority opinion, Mr. Flórez's voice seems pinched these days and sounds strained. His softer singing was sometimes patchy and unstable in pitch.

For this production Mr. Flórez has opted to sing the Count's showpiece aria in the final scene, usually omitted. In an awkward way this long and difficult aria stops the show, delaying the final ensemble, in which Dr. Bartolo is outwitted, the young lovers are joined, and the confusion finally ends. Rossini found a much better use for the aria when he lifted it from this work and turned it into the triumphant final rondo for the long-suffering heroine of "Cenerentola." Still, the audience gave Mr. Flórez an ecstatic ovation for his exuberant performance.

Though the bass-baritone John Del Carlo bellowed a bit as Dr. Bartolo, it hardly mattered. Here was a poignantly hapless Bartolo. And Mr. Del Carlo can toss off Italian patter with the best of them. Samuel Ramey's gravelly bass voice has been a little wobbly of late, which made his triumphant turn as the conniving Don Basilio a wonderful surprise. He brought malevolent echoes of Boris Godunov to his wily Basilio, to chilling effect. Brian Davis as Fiorello, the count's servant, and Wendy White as Berta, Bartolo's housekeeper, were also delightful. Every role counts in this comedy of confusion, especially in Mr. Sher's savvy production.

Despite budget, 'Barber' cuts a sumptuous, luxuriant sound
Justin Davidson, Newsday, 13 November 2006

Just a few months into its new era, led by general manager Peter Gelb, the Metropolitan Opera is turning into a house of wandering doors. The season's opening-night production of "Madama Butterfly" featured a flock of Japanese translucent panels that glided on and off, now assembling to form a chamber, now sliding back to reveal a vast hall.

The season's second new production, Rossini's "Barber of Seville," opened Friday, with wooden double doors painted a distressed Andalusian yellow, performing exactly the same tricks. Shuttling rickety sets around the stage by hand helps stay within slender budgets and do away with the elaborate simulations of the Met's recent past, but it quickly becomes an affectation.

Here it directs the attention to Catherine Zuber's costumes, including a gorgeous ankle-length leather coat of a kind that really ought to come back in style. And this nimble "Barber," directed by Bartlett Sher, does what Anthony Minghella's "Butterfly" couldn't: It relies on marvelous music-making.

The singing was luxuriant enough to make up for cut-rate sets, and conductor Maurizio Benini kept the frenzy flowing and the ensemble tight.

Juan-Diego Flórez played out his tenor like a platinum-coated kite string, making a whole human out of Count Almaviva, the lovelorn nobleman with a penchant for silly disguises. Flórez sang his first-act serenade beneath Rosina's window with such intoxicating tenderness that it was easy to see how he might seduce by song alone. By the end of opera, when Almaviva throws off all masks and asks Rosina to be his countess, Flórez brandished his voice in flourish after dazzling aristocratic flourish.

The young, lithe Flórez is a gifted actor as well as a mesmerizing singer, and Sher capitalized on the chemistry between him, Peter Mattei as Figaro and Diana Damrau as Rosina. After a rehearsal a few weeks before the opening, Sher remarked that opera singers bring such technical expertise and creativity to their roles that they practically direct themselves. Sher, a theater director with only one previous opera on his resume, may have a happily distorted picture of singers in general, but he was right about this cast.

With his yeasty baritone and big grin, Peter Mattei as Figaro was a brawny, loose-limbed sidekick to the refined Flórez. Periodically, they strolled down a catwalk that wrapped around the orchestra pit, making the audience complicit in their plots. The structure muffled the orchestra slightly but the trade-off in intimacy more than made up for the acoustical loss.

Rosina can be a role for a winsome simperer, but the soprano Diana Damrau did justice to her sly intelligence. Possessed of high notes so crystalline and gleaming as to make a Swarowski chandelier seem shabby, Damrau made it clear that it was she who was running the show.

Aside from the principal trio and a funny but overdone John Del Carlo as the blustery Bartolo, the main attraction was Samuel Ramey, who was sumptuously cast as the incompetently scheming music teacher Don Basilio. After a lifetime of singing serious villains, Ramey has developed a second act as a comedian, and here he adapts his Mephistophelian charm and brimstone baritone to Rossini's fluff with the touch of a true master.

When this bunch disbands, unless the Met can assemble another equally coruscating cast, the company will be left with an ordinary "Barber" and some sliding doors. The evening's delights showed the limits of trying to remake a major opera company with fresh theatrical values. Opera still depends on singers; either you've got them or you don't.

Il barbiere di Siviglia, Metropolitan Opera, New York
Martin Bernheimer, Financial Times, 13 November 2006

The new Met of Peter Gelb mustered "a ground- breaking new production". of Il barbiere on Friday. At least, that is what the press release heralded.

Bartlett Sher, the Broadway director, asked his designer, Michael Yeargan, to build a runway around the orchestra pit, bringing some of the action closer to the audience  and distorting sonic balances in the process. The sparse quasi-surrealist set framed a series of ever-moving doors, presumably connoting claustrophobia, and portable orange trees, presumably connoting echt-Spanish fertility. Figaro arrived atop a barbershop carriage pulled by admiring wenches, with a donkey tethered at the rear. Ask not why.

Unlike many theatrical strangers in operatic paradise, Sher managed to resist anachronistic updating. He did toy, however, with endless sight gags and pratfalls, frenzied tricks and routine shticks. His barbiere focused on fussy-business masquerading as funny- business.

Stationed within the stage extension, the conductor Maurizio Benini did his best to sustain contact with the itinerant singers. He managed to keep tempos brisk, textures thin and, alas, dynamics timid.

The ensemble was strong. Peter Mattei swaggered and staggered con brio, both vocally and dramatically, as Figaro. Diana Damrau as Rosina explored the stratosphere with almost enough razzle-dazzle to justify the casting a tweety coloratura in music intended for an earthy mezzo-soprano. Too bad she couldn't avoid striking banal flamenco poses to convey the heroine's spitfire temperament. John del Carlo bumbled sonorously, almost poignantly, as Bartolo, and Samuel Ramey managed to avert caricature as a dark, wily, somewhat wobbly Basilio. Wendy White sneezed sweetly as Berta, and Rob Besserer mimed the decrepitude of Ambrogio deftly.

When all was said, sung and pranced, however, the evening belonged to Juan Diego Flórez. He shaded Almaviva's lyrical flights with finesse, embellished the line with elegance, enacted the charades with charm. And, once again, he ventured the elaborate rondo-finale that Rossini recycled for his heroine in La Cenerentola. Most tenors omit this preposterously ornate aria. Flórez breezed through it. He alone broke ground.

Flórez seduce a lo Broadway
Fernando Sans Rivière, La Razón, 13 November 2006

El tenor triunfa en «El barbero de Sevilla» de Peter Gelb, director del Met

«El barbero de Sevilla»De Rossini. Solistas: J. D. Flórez, Peter Mattei, Diana Damrau, John del Carlo, Director musical: Maurizio Benini. Directorde escena: Bartlett Sher. Metropolitan Opera. Nueva York.

El nuevo director general del Metropolitan, Peter Gelb, se jugaba mucho con esta primera producción propia del coliseo neoyorquino pocos meses después de acceder al cargo. El director de escena Bartlett Sher no defraudó a su mentor ya que el trabajo que presentó fue exactamente lo que se buscaba, un aire nuevo y moderno a una de las óperas emblemáticas del repertorio. El éxito de su propuesta se centró en la frescura y naturalidad con la que asume todos sus trabajos en un medio teatral, el de Brodway, que a pesar de los enormes presupuestos escénicos vive de la aceptación del público que es quien da vida a cada obra, ya que en los EE UU no existe el teatro subvencionado por el Estado. La obra ha causado sensación por su comicidad, frescura y respeto hacia el libreto de Cesare Sterbini. Pero el exito extraordinario de este estreno se sustentó especialmente en un reparto joven de referencia.

Prodigio técnico

Hoy en dia no hay mejor Conde de Almaviva que el exquisito tenor peruano Juan Diego Flórez. Un artista capaz de recrearse con el canto florido y el fraseo además de asumir las exigentes agilidades de la partitura con una pasmosa facilidad y cerrar la ópera con una aria que se había dejado de lado por su extrema dificultad. Un verdadero prodigio técnico y canoro al que hay que añadir un enorme talento para la escena, un gran físico y una vitalidad por su trabajo realmente encomiables. El barítono sueco Peter Mattei no anduvo lejos del tenor peruano al presentar un Figaro descarado y atento a cada uno de los guinos del personaje. Fue capaz de focalizar la trama gracias a sus imaginativas y rocambolescas propuestas ofreciendo una emisión noble de gran belleza en todo el registro canoro, aunando también una interpretación actoral inteligente y enormemente eficaz.

La soprano alemana Diana Damrau destacó por su espectacular recreación de Rosina gracias a un intrumento homogéneo que disfruta con unos potentes sobreagudos. Una interpretación de la pupila un tanto exagerada, que se decantó por la extrema voluptuosidad de la adolescente, desesperada por la polvorienta vida con su tutor. El doctor Bartolo del bajo-barítono estadounidense John del Carlo dio perfectamente el personaje del desfasado tutor enamorado de su pupila. Destiló una perfecta comicidad y su aportación canora fue muy ajustada al personaje con alguna pequeña dificultad, quizá, en el canto silabado. Samuel Ramey aportó experiencia y autoridad al personaje de Don Basilio con una «Calumnia» de referencia.

Vestuario excelente y buena iluminación redondearon una velada que no hubiese sido un triunfo semejante sin la atenta dirección musical de Maurizio Benini.

Juan Diego triunfante
El Comercio, 14 November 2006

Nueva York [Agencias]. Juan Diego Flórez vuelve a conmocionar Nueva York. Y lo hace en un nuevo montaje de su ópera más querida, "El barbero de Sevilla", esta vez bajo la dirección de Bartlett Sher, un realizador de Broadway que hace su debut en el Metropolitan Opera House.

Durante varias semanas la isla de Manhattan fue empapelada por los ingeniosos afiches que prometían novedades en la nueva temporada de ópera. Unas apetitosas naranjas y el rostro de Juan Diego eran los únicos motivos visuales y fueron suficiente para que el público se volcara masivamente al Lincoln Center, para ver la nueva producción de la famosa ópera de Gioacchino Rossini.

Anthony Tommasini, crítico de ópera de "The New York Times", ya dejó en claro su veredicto. Reconoce valores en el trabajo de Sher, pero no considera que se trate de una puesta en escena especialmente novedosa. Simplemente la refresca, opina Tommasini, y celebra más bien el vestuario a cargo de Catherine Zuber. "Ha vestido a los personajes con diseños coloridos y sexys de acuerdo con la época, les ha dado toques cómicos, como la peluca roja que lleva Rosina, la joven heroína". El crítico también califica al reparto como ganador y hace especial mención del barítono sueco Peter Mattei, que tiene a su cargo el papel del barbero Fígaro. Sobre la soprano alemana Diana Damrau también escribe con entusiasmo. Pero a la hora de calificar a Juan Diego, surgen líneas con sentimientos encontrados.

"El popular y guapo Juan Diego Flórez exudó ardor y energía juveniles como el conde Almaviva. Con audacia interpretó los virtuosos pasajes de Rossini. Sin embargo, aunque pueda ser esta una opinión minoritaria, la voz del señor Flórez se escucha un poco forzada. Su canto era por momentos desigual e inestable".

Tommasini tiene razón en un punto, su opinión no era la de la mayoría durante el estreno de "El barbero de Sevilla". Cuando Juan Diego terminó de interpretar el aria final del conde, los ensordecedores aplausos parecieron derrumbar el Met. "La audiencia dio una extasiada ovación al señor Flórez por su exuberante performance", escribe el mismo crítico.

Así ha sido. Juan Diego es hoy la voz rossiniana más admirada del mundo. Y a su paso por el Met le sigue su debut en el Carnegie Hall el próximo 1 de diciembre. Los afiches para esa ocasión también se ven por toda la isla, anunciando un nuevo éxito. Para el programa se han elegido piezas de Mozart, Rosa Mercedes Ayarza de Morales, Fauré, Massenet, Bizet, Donizetti y su adorado Rossini.

Razzle-Dazzle Rossini
Peter G. Davis, New York Magazine, 27 November 2006

Yes, the Met is overhyping its new Il Barbiere di Siviglia. But the production has energy to spareso who's arguing?

Like many a company that comes under new management, the Metropolitan Opera has gone into hard-sell overdrive. Good. After cultivating an image of exclusivity and icy hauteur for more than a century, the Met could do worse than push the product for a change. There was even a brief preview of Rossini's The Barber of Seville on the Letterman show just two nights before the new production openedshades of Ed Sullivan, whose legendary TV extravaganzas on that same stage almost always included some opera excerpts. The next day, of course, opera fans sputtered on the Internet that the five-minute sequence was badly chosen, shockingly ill-prepared, and sloppily presented, surely more of a turnoff than a come-on for the unwashed. Perhaps so. But at least give new general manager Peter Gelb credit for trying.

That said, the Met might think about calming things down just a wee bitthe opening-night performance of this new Barber definitely seemed to be on steroids. That was partly inevitable, since Juan Diego Flórez as Count Almaviva and Diana Damrau as Rosina are both such high-energy performers. Even if the two stars do become less hyper during the run of the show, I can't imagine Flórez will be in danger of losing a scintilla of his 40-carat sparkle. Although still in his early thirties, this tenor is just about flawless in whatever he sings, easily tossing off the flashy coloratura runs and melting lyrical phrases that so perfectly mesh with his dashingly heartthrob stage persona. With Flórez on hand to sing the role, there is no question of omitting his long aria, which ends the eveninga standard cut until recentlyand one can now understand why Rossini originally titled the opera Almaviva.

Damrau is hardly upstaged by this eager crowd-pleaser, and she matches her partner note for note in vocal razzle-dazzle. She also adds more than a touch of the vixen to her characterization, along with occasional flamenco foot stomps and twisty hand gestures to remind us that Rosina is very much a sevillana, more than able to look after her own interests. Purists will no doubt tut-tut that a high soprano has once again commandeered a role originally written for a lower voice, but even Rossini gave up protesting that time-honored practice. He would very likely have been disarmed by this lively minx.

Peter Mattei's Figaro sometimes seems overwhelmed by his exuberant colleagues as he quietly manages the intrigues that ultimately bring the lovers together and out of Dr. Bartolo's clutches. There's still much rich humor to be savored here, and Mattei's discretionary approach can only get more effective as the production settles and comes into sharper focus. Beyond that, his creamy baritone and pointed articulation of text are always on target. Both John Del Carlo (Bartolo) and Samuel Ramey (Basilio) are seasoned interpreters of these classic buffo roles, and conductor Maurizio Benini has a firm grip on the pace and rhythmic flow of the score while giving the singers all the leeway they need.

If the stage often looks overbusy, one suspects that the choices are being made more by the singers than the director. Bartlett Sher comes from the theater world and has so far had little opera experience, but he respects the opera's traditions, and his conventional staging does little to unsettle them. A bit more theatrical imagination, in fact, would have been welcome, although the passerelle that discreetly brings the singers down into the audience was a happy idea. Otherwise, Michael Yeargan's drab sets are dominated by a backdrop of movable doors that are apparently meant to suggest Rosina's confinement, an abstract stylization that has no place in this earthy comedybut it hardly brings down a Barber of much musical distinction and plenty of vocal fizz.

A New Barber For a New Met
Jay Nordlinger, New York Sun, 22 November 2006

The Metropolitan Opera has a new production of "The Barber of Seville," Rossini's opera-buffa masterpiece. It comes courtesy of Bartlett Sher, director of "The Light in the Piazza," a hit at Lincoln Center.

In a program note for the Met, Mr. Sher pens the following, remarkable effusion: "In a time when even the Met finds itself in the process of extraordinary change, it is a wonder  and our good fortune  to have Rossini to speak fully and boldly, to help us, perhaps, to get a whiff of the wind of change and transformation of a previous century, and help clarify what we are going through now."

Right. And what is this "extraordinary change" at the Met  I mean, beyond program notes of that nature? Also, what does Mr. Sher mean by "even the Met"  that it was once a stuffy, hidebound institution? It seems likely.

The "New Met," as current management unblushingly calls itself, ought to avoid insulting the "Old Met," which was merely the greatest opera company in the world. And what has the "New Met" done, that it should be so immodest? By my count, one so-so production of "Madama Butterfly" and a PR campaign.

Mr. Sher puts his stamp on "The Barber."He wraps a makeshift stage around the orchestra, so that singers sometimes give the impression of being in the first rows. I suppose that this is thought to lend intimacy. I would point out that a good singer  a good opera performer  can achieve intimacy from a broom closet in the bowels of the building. And a poor performer will fail even when sitting in an audience member's lap.

The director catches attention in other ways, too. He has the action begin while the overture is still being played. He has Count Almaviva begin from the audience. He has Figaro enter on a cart pulled by a clutch of women. He has a little girl-on-girl action  suggesting that the Europeanization of the Met has well and truly begun. Critics will love it.

Onstage, a series of doors is moved about, and it is often unclear whether the characters are outside or in. Physically, the production feels small scale, too small for the Met, a grand house, whether directors like it or not. Why not take advantage? You can work in itty-bitty houses anytime.

Throughout the opera, oranges appear, rather as in "The Godfather." What Mr. Sher intends, I cannot tell you  maybe they're just oranges. Also, this production is curiously dark, for a "Barber." I am referring to lighting (and a gross, somber backdrop). "The Barber" is an Italian, sun-kissed score, and the story unfolds in Seville. Why so dark?

But enough of my kvetching. No one can endorse every aspect of a production, and Mr. Sher is obviously a talent. There are many touches to smile at. I would caution this, however: Self-conscious cleverness is a bane of art, and so is difference for difference's sake. Opera companies must watch that.

The Met has certainly arranged a fine cast for this show: Rosina is Diana Damrau, perhaps the leading coloratura soprano in the world right now. She almost caused a riot when she made her Met debut as Zerbinetta in Strauss's "Ariadne auf Naxos" last season. (This, despite the fact that nothing exciting ever happened at the "Old Met,"dull and unimaginative as it was.) Almaviva is Juan Diego Flórez, undisputed king of Rossini tenors. Together, Ms. Damrau and Mr. Flórez can probably sing more notes than any other pair on the planet.

On Monday night, Ms. Damrau was as dazzling as ever, singing with incredible ease. She could do anything with her voice that she wanted  and she was no wallflower. Her "Una voce poco fa" was extremely hammy, outlandish. But, you know? If you got it, flaunt it  and Ms. Damrau certainly has it. Her Rosina is about as much fun as you can have in an opera house.

I might add that the Italian of this German is first-rate  natural, and un-Germanic.

Mr. Flórez sang well too, although he sharped all night long. He has that little bleat  a hidden goat  in his voice, but it soon becomes endearing, at least to me.

Figaro was portrayed by the baritone Peter Mattei, who demonstrated wonderful support  vocal support  and theatrical swagger. The bass-baritone John Del Carlo made a splendid Don Bartolo, in part for this reason: He knows that Bartolo takes himself seriously  he may be a buffoon to others, but he is not one to himself.

And doing a turn as the music teacher, Don Basilio, was Samuel Ramey, the pride of Colby, Kansas. Though the voice is now wobbly, it belongs to a complete operatic professional. "La calunnia" was interesting  heavier than usual, but with a touch of Scarpia. Mr. Ramey badly flatted on the high G that ends the aria. But he made up for it elsewhere  for example, with a right-on low F later in the opera.

In the pit, things were really uneven. Maurizio Benini led an overture so poor, it was shocking. You could hardly believe you were at the Met. The orchestra was muted, and also ragged. This radiant, and mischievous, overture had no sparkle, no tension  no anything. Through much of Act I, a lethargy prevailed. Music that ought to be on a pinpoint was on a strand of limp spaghetti. But the performance eventually woke up, and stayed largely awake in Act II. I credit Ms. Damrau with enlivening all involved. It's hard to be sleepy when she's around.

A footnote, if you will: The "New Met" has been hanging banners across the house's façade. At present there is a banner reading "Il Barbiere di Siviglia," with a bunch of oranges and a lone chair. Now, the Met happens to possess what may be the best façade in New York. It is the most impressive thing about Lincoln Center. Why mar it with cheesy banners? Say what you want about the "Old Met" It knew not to deface a façade.

Handsome, Athletic Tenor, Hungry for Superstardom
Charles Michener, New York Observer, 21 November 2006

"He's got everything I encourage my students to aspire to," Marilyn Horne said to me a few weeks ago during the intermission of a recital by the young Peruvian tenor Juan Diego Flórez in Oberlin College's acoustically wonderful Finney Chapel. "His understanding of musical style is impeccable. His sound is glorious. And he really connects. I'm blown away."

Mr. Flórez had begun rather coolly with Tamino's aria "Dies bildnis ist bezaubernd schön" from Die Zauberflöte; he'd grown in intensity with two more Mozart arias (including a finely spun "Il mio tesoro" from Don Giovanni), and finally burst into flame in three arias by Rossini, in whose razzle-dazzle he reigns supreme among today's tenors. Ahead were songs by the Peruvian composer Rosa Mercedes Ayarza de Morales, French melodies by Fauré, Massenet and Bizet, and a grandly expressive aria by Donizetti, "Linda! Si ritirò" from Linda di Chamounix, all of which Mr. Flórez dispatched with exceptional panache. The standout among a generous assortment of encores, which had the youthful, sold-out audience screaming like rock fans, was "Ah! Mes amis, quel jour de fête!" from Donizetti's La Fille du Régiment. Mr. Flórez popped off its nine high C's with an effortlessness that would have made Pavarotti gasp.

On Dec. 1, Mr. Flórez and his superb accompanist, Vincenzo Scalera, will be giving the same program in the tenor's first recital at Carnegie Hall. Judging from what I heard at Oberlin, it will be an electrifying event. Mr. Flórez has been on the brink of superstardom since he made his debut a decade ago (at age 23) in Rossini's birthplace, Pesaro, Italy. Over the last 10 years, he's turned out a slew of best-selling albums on the Decca label, ranging from the florid bel canto repertoire to the soulful marineras, valse criollos, boleros and tangos he learned at the knee of his father, a highly regarded singer of popular Peruvian songs.

His 2002 debut at the Met as Count Almaviva in The Barber of Seville was a sensation, not only for his vocal athleticism, but also for the physical athleticism, abetted by dark movie-star looks, with which he commanded the stage. (If last season he seemed slightly piqued by the greater attention lavished on the Russian bombshell, Anna Netrebko, his co-star in Don Pasqualeat one performance he broke character by milking the audience for more applauseremember that there's a grand tradition of tenors who can't get enough approval.)

Mr. Flórez is now back at the Met as the Count in a production of The Barber of Seville that has the effect of subduing his pop-star charisma while bringing out a greater artistic maturity. Although the director, Bartlett Sher (best known for The Light in the Piazza at the Lincoln Center Theater), was signed to make his Met debut before the arrival of the company's new general manager, Peter Gelb, the staging of this new Barber bears all the marks of Mr. Gelb's avowed determination to bring opera to the great unwashed.

Rossini loved to wring laughs out of operatic shenanigans, and in this case he transformed low comedy into something sublime through the unflagging effervescence of his musical invention. Mr. Sher signaled that he would not be content to let Rossini's delicious, self-mocking score speak for itself when he raised the curtain midway through the splendid overture to show us a sleepy manservant rousing the master of the house, Dr. Bartolo, from a drunken stupora scene nowhere to be found in the libretto. As if there weren't enough rapid-fire "Figaro, Figaro, Figaros" to make the point, the title character sang his bravura aria of self-advertisement, "Largo al factotum," surrounded by doting peasant girls and, mysteriously, a donkey.

Michael Yeargan's uncommonly shallow set had enough doors for a dozen Feydeau farces. He employed female stagehands; their gender underscored the opera's theme of a young woman trying to escape her male keeper. In the production's sharpest break with Met tradition, the proscenium arch was obliterated by the installation of a Miss Americastyle runway over the orchestra pit; this allowed the principals to step out from behind the golden draperies and vent their frustrations directly to the audience. Mr. Sher (and Mr. Gelb) seemed to be addressing the post-9/11 decline in Met attendance by saying, "If you won't come to the opera, then opera will come to you."

As sheer showbiz, it worked. The production's third performance, which I attended, was sold out, and the audience, looking distinctly younger than usual, was having a wonderful time. Egged on by their enthusiasm, most of the singers outdid themselves in showiness: Peter Mattei's consistently engaging Figaro was so outsize in manner and voice that he might have been the mayor of Seville in disguise. John Del Carlo's Dr. Bartolo and Samuel Ramey's Don Basilio bellowed their brutishness with little regard for ensemble niceties. Diana Damrau's Rosina embroidered her acrobatic arias with a manic perfection that did away with any sense of a wily damsel in distress. In the virtually silent role of the doctor's somnolent manservant Ambrogio, the freelance dancer Rob Besserer found at least 273 different ways to get a laugh out of narcolepsy.

In the midst of it all was Mr. Flórez. With his boyish physique and penetrating but small-bore sound, he could have been swamped by all the bluster. But the evening belonged to him. Unfailingly elegant (even when he was impersonating the creepiest of music teachers), he captured the true magic that has made The Barber of Seville such a beloved hit since its premiere in Rome in 1816. (This was the Met's 553rd performance of the work.) Chief among Rossini's many second thoughts that shaped the opera's success was his decision to transfer the tenor's last, fiendishly difficult aria to the finale of La Cenerentola, where it has been a show-stopper for mezzo-sopranos ever since. For Mr. Flórez, the Met restored the aria to its original place just before the denouement. Seemingly led by the beauty of the aria, Mr. Flórez made his way out over the orchestra, sending his voice into impossible stratospheres, demonstrating the heroic, high-wire ardor that only opera at its best can provide.

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