Once, a friend of Richard Wagner's (yes, he had a few) discovered him sitting in the shadows at the back of an opera house box watching "The Barber of Seville."
"How I love Rossini," said the great man, "but you must not tell my Wagnerites. They'd never forgive me."
This is a good-looking, bright, energetic and wholly entertaining production of opera's reigning comedic warhorse. If the singing is hardly likely to make hard-core fans throw away their recordings with Callas or Berganza, it is nevertheless perfectly respectable.
This is one of the all-too rare productions in which it appears that the stage director has bothered to read the text. Why, wonder of wonders, when young, lovesick Count Almaviva is supposed to be singing a serenade, the director actually has him do just that. And when Figaro, the town barber, is supposed to be shaving Dr Bartolo, the comic sort-of villain, he actually applies foamy shaving cream. Astonishing!
Maria Ewing sings pretty well as she manages to be strange-looking-but-beautiful-anyway, funny, indomitable and adorable all at once.
This is probably as good a DVD as you might hope to find for introducing a newbie to the mad, illogical and ultimately addictive world of opera.
A NOTE ON CASTING: One Amazon US reviewer has noted with dismay that Maria Ewing who sings Rosina is actually identified as a soprano, not as a mezzo-soprano for which the role was written. Be reassured. More than a few sopranos have succeeded as Rosina in the nearly two hundred years since "The Barber" was premiered. Rossini, himself, coached soprano Adelina Patti in the part. She scored a triumph. (She later became so famous that the barbershop standard "Sweet Adeline" was written in her honor.) Closer to our own time, a certain Greek-American lady named Callas had some success, too.
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