NEW YORK (AP) — For the first time since Rossini’s most famous work was given its Metropolitan Opera premiere in 1883, “The Barber of Seville” is being presented by the company in English rather than Italian, a shortened holiday version intended to entice families during school break.
To cut “Il Barbiere di Siviglia” down to about 90 minutes around an intermission, the Met hired poet J.D. McClatchy to write a rhyme-filled libretto. For once there were giggles around the house Wednesday when Figaro sang “It just so happens all the cheese has landed on your macaroni!” The original, “sui maccheroni il cacio v’e’ cascato,” usually passes without reaction.
McClatchy also wrote the text for the Met’s English-language version of Mozart’s “The Magic Flute.” Translating the libretto written by Cesare Sterbini for Rossini is a tougher task, primarily because the rhythm of Italian is difficult to replicate in English, with its harsher consonants.
The difficulty in maintaining coloratura runs can be heard in Almaviva’s closing aria, “Ah, il piu’ lieto, il piu’ felice,” here “Love forever! Love forever! Nothing makes a man so happy as two hearts that beat together.” It works, but the fit is not as smooth.
“Largo al factotum” becomes “You need a barber in Seville,” and Rosina’s “Una voce poco” changes to “In my heart I hear his voice.” The famous overture is trimmed and verses are cut throughout along with some arias. Early on, Bartolo opines to Rosina about an aria from a new composition: “An opera! Stuff and nonsense! Powdered women and paunchy men all squealing about nothing anyone understands.” The audience cackled.
Soprano Patricia Risley, taking over on short notice from an ill Isabel Leonard, was a winning Rosina with a smile, an endearing demeanor and an attractive coloratura. Pleased to have gotten through, she made a big hand motion to wipe her brow during the curtain calls and then gave a huge hug to conductor Yves Abel.
Tenor Alek Shrader (Almaviva) and baritone Rodion Pogossov (Figaro) both balanced mischief and drama. Shrader’s voice, a tad on the light side, was filled with tone and color. Pogossov’s voice was more developed.
Bass-baritone John Del Carlo (Bartolo) had the comedic timing down perfectly in Bartlett Sher’s flowing 2006 production, which features a passerelle in Michael Yeargan’s set that brings the singers closer to the audience. Bass Jordan Bisch (Basilio) and soprano Claudia Waite (Berta) added spark in the supporting roles, and Abel led a spirited performance from the Met orchestra.
“Barber” is the third opera in the Met’s family series, following “The Magic Flute” (2006-07, 2008-09 and 2010-11) and Humperdinck’s “Hansel and Gretel” (2007-08, 2009-10 and last season). The number of newcomers in the audience was evident by all the craned necks of people watching the chandeliers ascend toward the ceiling as the lights dimmed.
When the Met began the family program, there were six matinees of “The Magic Flute.” This season, just two of the seven “Barber” performances are during the day – and the run ends with an 8:30 p.m. start on Jan. 5. At Wednesday’s 11 a.m. performance, the Met ran out of booster seats 30 minutes before the curtain.
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