My mind makes promises my inner writer can't keep. I mentioned about a month ago that my wonderful mom had treated me to the opera (at a theater near you!) just after Mothers' Day, and that I would write about it "later."
(photo stolen from www.metopera.org/)
It's later. The opera in question was "Il Barbiere di Siviglia," or, for plebeians like me, "The Barber of Seville." If, like me, your only exposure to this marvelous comic opera by Gioachino Rossini was from Bugs Bunny, then surprise! you already know by heart the overture, and the character Figaro's opening aria, the thrilling "Largo al Factotum." Think lots of la-las and machine-gun fire Figaros . . .
"Figaro qua, Figaro la, Figaro qua, Figaro la,
Figaro su, Figaro giu, Figaro su, Figaro giu . . ."
as Figaro is apparently bemoaning his plight (as the busiest, most sought-after barber in Seville), that everyone wants a piece of him.
Someone at the top of New York's venerable Metropolitan Opera has figured out that the world has gotten used to the extreme close-ups that cinema and television can afford, and the luxury of having cameramen, directors and editors to focus our attention where it should be at any given moment. So, for the first time, the Met brought live opera to theaters around the country and in Canada for six of its 2006-2007 productions. Because the performances were taped live, with seamless live editing in front of full audiences, none of the intensity of seeing a live opera is lost. In fact, I kept wanting to applaud, but felt ridiculous doing so in a movie theater.
Rossini's "Barber of Seville" has one of those improbable -- no, impossible -- and silly plots which are a specialty of operas and daytime television. Don't expect nuanced acting performances or subtleties of any kind, because everything is over-the-top in a comic opera. Do expect vibrant music, grand costumes, and thrilling arias and ensemble performances. And a shaving cream fight.
This particular production was beautifully directed by Bartlett Sher, in his first Met performance. His name meant nothing to me -- again, I am a pleb -- but Broadway enthusiasts know Sher well, apparently. The sets were cleverly designed to roll easily around the stage, and whole scenes often shifted in the background as the singers performed on a special catwalk in front of the orchestra pit, so the action never stopped. Sher's production achieved a swirling, giddy feel to match the nimble singing and energetic music.
(photo stolen from www.metopera.org/)
Okay, I got all of that stuff out of the way to tell you this: you think you hate opera, right? When you think of opera you think of Wagner, big fat women, very very loud people, people who just won't die, people who insist on singing while dying, and lots of blood. Well, you're right, and I won't argue with you. That describes a lot of opera, but you have to work up to that stuff. Start here, with Rossini, and especially with the clever Figaro. You'll be hooked. And there was nothing fat about Rosina, played with verve, charm and sex appeal by Joyce DiDonato. Holy cow, I was pretty sure she was gonna pop over the top of her bustier at any second, if you know what I mean.
The most important thing I have to tell you about this production is that (if you ever get to see it on DVD, and I'm checking weekly at the Met's web site, believe me) you will come away from it in drooling, embarrassing, junior high LOVE with at least one of the male leads, if you prefer men, and maybe even if you don't. Peter Mattei, the Swedish baritone who plays Figaro, could probably have crooked his finger at any lady in the audience that night, and she would have jumped up onto the stage. Juan Diego Flórez, as the dashing young Count Almaviva, is too short for me. Oh, and I'm married. Other than those two things, though, I can't think of one reason not to run away with him when he calls.
(photo stolen from marci pants on Flickr)
Here is the link to the Metropolitan Opera 2007-2008 HD season:
Eight operas will be brought to the big screen next season. I plan to see at least two of them. Watch for my reviews . . .
. . . later.