Gioacchino ROSSINI (1792-1868)
Il Barbiere di Siviglia [160:00]
Count Almaviva – Rockwell Blake (tenor)
Rosina – Kathleen Battle (soprano)
Figaro – Leo Nucci (baritone)
Doctor Bartolo – Enzo Dara (bass)
Don Basilio – Feruccio Furlanetto (bass)
Berta – Loretta di Franco (mezzo)
Fiorello – David Hamilton (bass)
Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and Chorus/Ralf Weikert
John Cox (stage production)
Robin Wagner (set design)
rec. live, Metropolitan Opera, December 1988
Aspect Ratio 4:3, PCM Stereo and DTS 5.1
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 073 4022 [2 DVDs: 97:38 + 61:52]

Any new DVD of The Barber has to contend with very stiff competition. This one has very enjoyable aspects but on the whole doesn’t come up to the mark. The lumbering production is the first thing to get the attention. The stage of the Met is the last place anyone would go to for intimacy, but even with that in mind this production is really too big and ponderous for its own good. There is so much naturalism here that it gets in the way rather than enhancing the production. Moorish lattices and Andalucían costumes are all very well but they draw too much attention to themselves. The revolving stage allows the action to flow very impressively but having a horse-drawn cart on stage (twice!) smacks of excess. Too often we are given grandeur instead of wit so that humour falls by the wayside.

While this larger-than-life staging style is too much for me, I could still live with it were it not for the variable quality of the singing. The stand-out star here is Kathleen Battle’s Rosina, and doesn’t she know it! To be fair, her tone and colour are very beautiful here and the utterly distinctive purity of her voice shines through magnificently. The tessitura is so easy for her that she even sings sections of Ah, qual colpo inaspettato transposed up an octave. She is lithe and athletic in her coloratura throughout. It would be a tough judge indeed who is not impressed by Una voce poco fa. However this has the down-side that the performance is all about her. Every time she is on stage she dominates the action, perfectly self-consciously. She is in no way a team player and this comes across obtrusively in the ensembles, a serious shortcoming in this ensemble-based opera.

American tenor Rockwell Blake is an unsteady Almaviva, his voice shaky and gravelly even from the outset. Ecco ridente is pretty painful to listen to and things seldom rise above the mediocre. Given the quality of his voice he was extremely brave to include Cessa di piu resistere in the final scene. Regrettably he attacks from below the note throughout the entire aria. The coloratura is blurred and the roulades are foggy, though the last blast is fairly exciting. Leo Nucci gives a disagreeably blustery performance as Figaro. He shouts his way through Largo al factotum and most of his other numbers too. Rolling his eyes ludicrously seems to be the only acting style he is able to summon up to deal with the overbearing sets he has been given.

Only the basses are entirely good. Enzo Dara is a top-notch Bartolo of the old school with a richly distinctive voice, sounding relatively young and energetic. He copes well with the patter and is the best actor on the stage. Furlanetto looks and sounds noticeably younger as Basilio but his voice still has a tinge of thunder. Di Franco gives a satisfying rendition of Berta’s aria, though Weikert’s direction of the orchestra is fine without being extraordinary.

Brian Large’s video direction is good and the DTS sound is remarkably well focused, but you won’t buy a Barber for these things. The most recently released competition, Pappano’s excellent Covent Garden set, knocks this out of the field on every count with better singing, staging and conducting. This Met version isn’t one I’ll be returning to often.

Simon Thompson