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Met’s rousing ‘Barber of Seville’ comes to ND

Analise Lipari | Monday, March 26, 2007

The Metropolitan Opera House in New York City isn’t exactly easy walking distance from the Notre Dame campus. The DeBartolo Performing Arts Center (DPAC), however, bridged that gap this Saturday in the first of its ongoing series of live opera broadcasts from the Met with “Il Barbiere di Seviglia,” or “The Barber of Seville.”

In an effort to bring opera to a wider audience than those close to an opera house, the Met will, via satellite, bring its latest operas to movie theaters around the world, including the DPAC’s THX-certified Browning Cinema. With its talented performers, ingenious design and Gioachino Rossini’s gorgeous music, “Il Barbiere di Seviglia” was a wonderful start to the series.

The Met, which was the site of the opera’s original premiere nearly a century earlier, seemed an appropriate location for this latest incarnation of the work. This production of the “Barber of Seville” featured famed Juan Diego Flores as the dashing Count Almaviva, Joyce DiDonato as the feisty heroine Rosina and Peter Mattei as the incomparable barber, Figaro. Rounding out the cast were John Del Carlo as Rosina’s curmudgeonly guardian, Doctor Bartolo and John Relyea as his sinister assistant Don Basilio. The production was directed by Bartlett Sher and designed by Michael Yeargan, both of whom worked on the Tony award-winning musical “The Light in the Piazza.”

The story of “The Barber of Seville” is often less familiar to audiences than its music. The ubiquitous line “Figaro, Figaro, Figaro” often comes to mind, and music from the opera has been widely featured in popular culture, ranging anywhere from Robin Williams singing Figaro’s “Largo al Factotum” in the 1990s film “Mrs. Doubtfire” to Chuck Jones’s Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd in Looney Tunes’ “Rabbit of Seville.” The audience’s inevitable familiarity with key melodies added a different layer of enjoyment to what is often an infrequently viewed type of performance.

Rossini’s opera opens with Almaviva singing to the empty balcony of his love, Rosina, while disguising himself as “Lindoro,” a humble servant. Rosina begins to fall in love with the Count’s beautiful music, but is held captive by her guardian, the elder Doctor Bartolo, who wants nothing more than to marry Rosina himself. In near despair, Almaviva finds the help he needs in the skillful hands of the traveling town barber (and part-time matchmaker), Figaro. Through an intricate series of plot twists, disguises and schemes, the two lovers escape the clutches of Bartolo and find love in one another’s arms, with Figaro watching and laughing over all of Seville.

A medium often unfamiliar to most college students, opera is a blend of powerful music and impeccable vocal talent. In this production of “The Barber of Seville,” neither was in short order. Flores and Mattei were both delightful; each gave their well-known roles a different and personal touch, with Mattei in particular making Figaro his own with flavor and good-natured humor.

Other highlights included Claudia Waite as Berta, Bartolo’s beleaguered servant, and her performance of “Il vecchiotto cerca moglie;” the ingeniously designed set, which featured a number of oversized doors on wheels that gave the set a fluidity and energy; and the effective use of an extended platform in front of the orchestra pit, which allowed for each performer to literally get in touch with their audience.

The High Definition technology used in the broadcast also added to the appeal, as the camerawork highlighted the performers with remarkable clarity.

With both this impressive performance and a broadcast of Puccini’s “Il Trittico” to be featured at the Browning on April 28 (with others to follow during the next academic year), the DPAC’s showcasing of live opera from the Met can only grow in bringing new audiences to a timeless art form.