Rare is the production of Rossini's opera about the busybody barber that isn't dominated by either the man wielding the razor or the wily young woman whose romantic aims he's recruited to pursue.

Rare is the production of Rossini’s opera about the busybody barber that isn’t dominated by either the man wielding the razor or the wily young woman whose romantic aims he’s recruited to pursue. The tenor role, Count Almaviva, is usually an also-ran in the fight for audience appeal. But tenors with all the gifts of Juan Diego Florez come along rarely, too. With dreamboat looks, a sweetly spirited stage presence and a strong, clear and wonderfully agile voice, Florez genially stole the spotlight from his Met-debuting co-star, mezzo Vesselina Kasarova, during the late days of the company’s spring season. (Florez made his Met debut in this role two months ago.)

Kasarova’s debut at the house has been long in coming, even by Met standards. She canceled a planned debut as Rosina in “Barbiere” in 1997 and also withdrew from “Der Rosenkavalier.” At long last, and little-heralded, the Bulgarian singer finally made it to the Met stage last week, and the happy news is that she seems to have been worth the wait. Her voice is dusky and rich in the lower register, bright and mighty elsewhere, and her command of coloratura is breathtaking. She gave the voice-worshippers in the audience quite a show with an ebulliently ornamented rendition of Rosina’s “Una voce poco fa” in the first act.

She’s a lively comedienne, too: There’s more than a little Lucille Ball in her Rosina, with Kasarova tossing out almost as many irritated, coy, crafty or mousy moues as she does notes. She can use the voice to humorous effect, too, turning a trill into a ripple of laughter or using pauses to suggest steely determination.

Florez, too, is a comic actor in the brassy rather than the subtle mode, with his second-act shenanigans in frizzy wig revealing a natural gift for broad physical comedy that nevertheless stops short of mugging. His voice is capable of much more subtle dramatic coloration. He can caress a melting romantic phrase beautifully, as needed, but has plenty of power for a zippy high climax, too. He was given more of a showcase here than most tenors essaying Almaviva, thanks to the rarely included second-act aria that was later reworked into the climactic “Non piu mesta” for the title character in “La Cenerentola.”

Earle Patriarco, overshadowed vocally, was nonetheless a jolly and appealing Figaro, and his big baritone, while somewhat too blunt for the filigree of the famous “Largo al factotum,” was in fine shape elsewhere. There was solid support from John Relyea, a handsome young baritone rather laboriously made up to look neither as Don Basilio, and a fine buffo turn from Paul Plishka as the outwitted guardian.

The Met’s mantillas-and-all production is not looking particularly fresh, however. It makes a somewhat dreary showcase for the wonderful bloom in the voices of the opera’s current romantic leads.

Il Barbiere di Siviglia

Metropolitan Opera; 3,800 seats; $250 top

Production

A Metropolitan Opera presentation of the opera in two acts with music by Gioacchino Rossini and libretto by Cesare Sterbini, based on the play by Beaumarchais. Conductor, Yves Abel. Production, John Cox. Stage director, Zoe Pappas.

Creative

Sets, Robin Wagner; costumes, Patricia Zipprodt; lighting designer, Gil Wechsler. Reviewed April 15, 2002. Running time: 3 HOURS.

Cast

Fiorello - Kamel Boutros Count Almaviva - Juan Diego Florez Figaro - Earle Patriarco Dr. Bartolo - Paul Plishka Ambrogio - Glenn Bater Rosina - Vesselina Kasarova Don Basilio - John Relyea Berta - Claudia Waite An officer - Bernard Fitch
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