[Met Tour] CID:165200

Il Barbiere di Siviglia
The American Academy of Music, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Tue, March 16, 1954

Il Barbiere di Siviglia (248)
Gioachino Rossini | Cesare Sterbini
Frank Guarrera

Roberta Peters

Count Almaviva
Cesare Valletti

Dr. Bartolo
Fernando Corena

Don Basilio
Cesare Siepi

Jean Madeira

George Cehanovsky

Alessio De Paolis

Rudolf Mayreder

Alberto Erede

Review 1:

Linton Martin in the Philadelphia Inquirer
Years Fail to Blunt Wit Of Controversial “Barber”

When an opera 138 years old can create controversy — that's news. Such is the present fate or fortune of the new production of Rossini's "The Barber of Seville," which will be presented at the Academy on Tuesday evening as the fifth and penultimate performance of the Metropolitan Opera's seasonal series in this city.

According to one proponent's opinion, the new version as staged by Cyril Ritchard is "superlative ...spontaneous, singularly unified, gay ... far and away the most brilliant, artistic and amusing performance of that comedy that has been given in 20 years," (Olin Downes, New York Times.) The contrary critical camp, on the other hand, found it "depressing . . lacking style .. . the staging erroneously conceived and the acting undistinguished." (Virgil Thomson, New York Herald Tribune).

A more cautious attitude was displayed by the critic of Variety, trade paper of show biz. This reviewer found it to be "horsed up a little too much and lacking in style, but moved at a good pace constantly with a good deal of spirit And fun."

As a cause of argument, "The Barber" is running true to tradition. For the first performance of this almost first and still most famous opera buffa remaining regularly in the repertoire, was one of the most celebrated fiascos in all the annals of opera. For upon its premiere at the Argentina Theater in Rome, Feb. 5, 1816, disgruntled operagoers determinedly undertook to wreck the show. Various reasons have been advanced to account for this adverse demonstration, the most popular theory being that this attitude was prompted by jealousy displayed by devoted followers of the composer Paisiello, an older contemporary composer, who had previously written a comic opera on the same subject which eventually found failure and is never heard of now.

According to a presumably impartial report by one Mme. Giorgi Righetti, "hot-headed enemies" of Rossini flocked into the theater as soon as the doors were opened and set out to make sure of certain failure as the performance proceeded, They pounced upon even minor lapses of staging, including the failure of a lute to be tuned properly for the serenade song by the Count Malady's beneath Rosina's window.

Whistling, laughing. catcalls and other insulting interruptions followed to confuse and bedevil the artists on the stage and the orchestra. At the end of the first act Rossini turned in his seat at the keyboard of a spinet and sarcastically applauded the audience for its unseemly demonstration. After the end of the opera the composer placidly betook himself home, and when a flock of his admirers and friends arrived to congratulate him upon the opera, they found him sound asleep in bed.


Presently the tide of opinion turned, and the merry and melodious little masterpiece soon established itself as an unqualified success and has maintained that position ever since. The first performance in New York was given in English, oddly enough, at the Park Theater, Nov. 29, 1825, which has raised the question of why the current "restudied and restaged" version does not follow that example instead of sticking to the original Italian of the libretto to which the score was composed.

For the second performance of "The Barber" Rossini cheerfully replaced one tenor aria that was deemed unlucky by substituting a different number from an earlier opera of totally different character. The overture of the opera encountered a similar mishap. When it was discovered the original overture was lost, the composer nonchalantly fished out the prelude to another of his operas, "Elisabetta, Regina d'Inghilterra," and substituted it. When his devoted friends protested on the score of artistic congruity, Rossini is said to have replied, “Don't worry, nobody will notice the difference."


Despite the success of "The Barber" after the initial fiasco, the Paris premiere was coolly received, according to the newspaper reports. It has had its ups and downs since, but today nobody seriously disputes that it has achieved a more or less permanent place in the operatic repertoire.

Rossini arrogated no fancy airs to himself as an operatic reformer and innovator. But it is true that he eliminated the dry recitative which was the vogue in Mozart's day, introducing instead a more authentic style of dramatic declamation. He carried this greater flexibility in his musical treatment of the text to include, as well, a more naturalistic handling of duets, trios and other ensemble numbers.

Through the years the famous characters of "The Barber" have engaged the attention of most celebrated singers for whom the parts are suitable, particularly the role of Rosina, as sung by Adelina Patti, Melba, Sembrich, Tetrazzini, Galli-Curci and Lily Pons. The Met's impresario, Rudolf Bing, is continuing this tradition by announcing a cast of stellar character for the forthcoming performance in the Academy on Tuesday.

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