To prevent confusion with paisiello's once-popular opera of the same name, Rossini's The Barber of Seville had its premiere in 1816 as Almaviva, or The Useless Precaution. The Metropolitan Opera might think about reverting to that title as long as Juan Diego Flórez appears in the current revival. Only 28 when he made his Met debut as Count Almaviva earlier this month, this extravagantly gifted tenor from Lima, Peru, seems to have it all: voice, looks, style, personality, musical refinement, and an appealing stage presence.
Opera mavens who keep close watch on the international scene expected no less. Flórez has stirred up much excitement in Europe over the past three years, and his arrival at the Met was more of an anointment than an announcement. Indeed, his debut coincided with the release of an all-Rossini recital from Decca, a label whose elite roster includes Luciano Pavarotti, Cecilia Bartoli, and Renée Fleming.
A light, lyric tenor and likely to remain so even as his voice matures, Flórez enters a crowded field of Rossini specialists but instantly scores points over his rivals in terms of sheer vocal quality. His tone is bright, tightly focused, and brushed with that attractive burr so characteristic of Spanish-speaking singers as he gives a graceful shape to the musical line, savors the words, and spins out flawless coloratura without forcing for effect. Hearing him toss off Almaviva's final bravura aria is a special treat, since this showpiece is almost invariably cut. A disarming and dashing young suitor, Flórez is also a good comedian, turning himself into a hilarious Harpo Marx look-alike disguised as Rosina's loony singing teacher. Appropriate repertory for this elegant singer will inevitably be limited in a house as large as the Met, but let's hope that management finds ways to accommodate him.
Otherwise, the production rises above the routine only in the orchestra pit, thanks to the alert conducting of Yves Abel. Paula Almerares, stepping in for Ruth Ann Swenson, sings a pleasant if somewhat pallid Rosina, while Dwayne Croft (Figaro), Paul Plishka (Bartolo), and Simone Alaimo (Basilio) give solid accounts of their roles. Yes, this Barber is definitely all about Almaviva.
The Barber of Seville
The Metropolitan Opera