By Lilyanna D’Amato
On this twentieth day of quarantine, I have grown weary of watching. I spent the first few days happily catching up on Succession, the next few binge-watching every episode of Tiger King, and now, a week and a half later, I’ve resorted to fruitless channel surfing. On Sunday, I spent a whopping six hours on my phone. So, at 7:30 last night, when I propped my laptop on the edge of my bed and nestled myself under the covers to watch The Metropolitan Opera’s March 24th, 2007 stream of Rossini’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia, I was anticipating another few hours of mind-numbing screen time. But, fortunately, the performance far exceeded my watch-weary skepticism.
Abounding in youthful ardor and delightful impishness, the opera, directed by Bartlett Sher and conducted by Maurizio Benini, opens in Seville as the young Count Almalviva, disguised as a penniless student, vainly serenades the beautiful Rosina from below her balcony. As Almalviva, tenor Juan Diego Flórez exudes his signature boyish charm, brazenly tackling Rossini’s virtuosic melismas with exuberance and grace. He leaps and bounds across the stage, lamenting his lost love, who is kept under lock and key by her guardian, Dr. Bartolo, played by John Del Carlo. Flórez even gallantly struts onto the lip of the orchestra pit to include the audience in his soulful lamentation.
Enter the swashbuckling Figaro, played by debonair Swedish baritone Peter Mattei. Masterfully bellowing the famous “Largo al factotum” with astounding alacrity, Mattei’s Figaro is endearingly pompous, constantly boasting of his popularity. Together, buoyantly weaving their way through set director Michael Yeargan’s matrix of movable doors, stairwells, and orange trees, the two carry out a plot to trick the wicked Bartolo and unite the two lovers.
Here, soprano Joyce DiDonato dazzles as the feisty, effervescent Rosina. Her flirtatious rendition of the seminal aria “Una voce poca fa,” left the audience stunned, her sizable voice soaring through rapid coloratura runs with ease. Wearing a disheveled, curly red wig and a sexy, period dress, the aria proves Rosina is no ingénue. In his New York Times review, Anthony Tommasini writes that while “for the most part she is a docile and obedient thing, when crossed in love she becomes a viper.”
Amalviva and Figaro put their plan into action, swindling Bartolo into giving up Rosina, lured by the orchestra’s luxuriant strings. Following a series of comical mishaps and tongue-twisting patter, the young lovers are married and the confusion finally ends.
After the bows, the MET’s chandeliers floated back down to their resting positions and audience members reached for their coats. I watch intently as each person made their way towards the doors, an audience of almost four thousand braving a brisk spring night.
Not to sound dramatic, but twenty days into a quarantine that sight feels pretty unfamiliar.
In my imagination, all of those people put on their fanciest clothes, got babysitters for their kids, sat on musty, leathery taxi seats, put their elbows on wooden bars as they ordered extravagantly priced pre-show drinks, got impatient as they waited in line to use the restroom during intermission, awkwardly touched the hand of the person sitting next to them, maybe got blisters on their heels from their too-tight shoes, or partook in a bevy of other inconsequential moments, all to spend a night at the opera. Doesn’t all that seem a little bit fantastical now?
It’s true, I have grown weary of watching. But, I don’t consider streaming Rossini’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia, or any opera for that matter, to be “watching” at all. For a few hours, I was dropped right in the middle of a whole bunch of small, unimportant happenings. I witnessed an amazing performance, yes, but I also gained a newfound reverence for moments, which, prior to this crisis, I would have glazed over and forgotten almost immediately. So, as someone who was incredibly dubious of the “concert streaming” experience, I can confidently say this opera was worth the watch.