So, I also got to catch the second to last Barbiere last weekend, and truth be told, between JDF, Peter Mattei, Joyce Dx2 and such a lovely production, I was feeling remarkably charitable towards it around the 50 minute mark. Had I misjudged? Was I wrong to say it should be consigned to the dustbin of history? That it was a malignant leech sucking the blood from repertories around the world?
This Barbiere certainly takes a valiant stab at overcoming the usual lamenesses. It boasts a spare, elegant production that doesn't oversell the thin story; singers that can actually, you know, sing all the notes; and direction and singers with comic instincts sharp enough to actually breathe some life into the dessicated farce bits. And I mean, what's not to love about an opening in which you get to hear JDF sing both Ecco Ridente and that other pretty song? Good deal right?
Well, I thought so. And then we got to one of the parts where they go back and forth about some stupid letter thing for like 15 minutes, and I was reminded why I said all those mean and also correct things in the first place.
The way I see it, comedy in opera falls into three categories: 1) Those pieces which may or may not have the funny left in them, but there's really no way of knowing, since all the funny bits are done in that arch funny-esque style which is used to represent farce in historical works but isn't actually intended to make audiences laugh. Which isn't a bad thing per se. Comedy is hard, and it's reasonable sometimes to just revive good music without going the distance to exhume old comedy. 2) Then there are pieces which are often done in aforementioned funny-esque style but which, in the hands of capable actors and directors, can actually be delightful and truly funny comedies again: think the Met's Cosi or perhaps last year's Don Pasquale. 3) And finally, there are those pieces which, despite the best efforts of everyone involved, just aren't going to be funny ever, ever, again. It's not their fault. It's just the nature of comedy. 10 years is a long life span for funniness, to say nothing of 200 years. I feel Barbiere falls into this last category. I mean, maybe things would be different if 80 percent of the music wasn't simply a tiresome byproduct of that unfunniness, but it is, so they aren't.
OK. Enough ragging on it. You know it's not personal, right JDF? It's not your fault your rep is connected to some played out operas. I would hate to think I've done anything to offend you and that--oh mercy--that aching honey awesome voice. Like, you have to wonder if Joyce DiDonato, standing two feet away from the orifice producing that sound, doesn't come just a little bit in the last scene. If sun-dappled sweetness was a lethal weapon, he'd be a murderer.
Joyce for her part was splendid as well--I was really into a mezzo voice for Rosina. Peter Mattei, with his usual delicious sound, turned in a completely original Figaro. The jocky camraderie between him and JDF in the first act was pitch perfect. If only they hadn't been up against the drag that is the rest of Barbiere. I mean, not like I won't be there when they come to Chicago next year. K. Back to the Helena b-cast.