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18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
Operatic time capsuleJan. 27 2011
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This historic 1950 live Metropolitan Opera performance of "Il barbiere di Siviglia" is an interesting addition to the opera catalog. But its inclusion in the first four releases of Sony and the Met's historic recordings series is a little puzzling. Where the other three are certified great performances, this one is more like a snapshot of the Met on a good but routine day in the mid 20th century. Pons was one of the most beloved and glamorous opera stars of her time and this recording captures her in one of her signature roles with all of the charm and personality that made her a fixture at the Met for over two decades. But vocally it also finds her late in her career, alternating between flashes of her celebrated coloratura technique and some rather effortful singing.
This is definitely old-fashioned Rossini performance style from the pre-scholarly era, but the leads, particularly Valdengo and Baccaloni, are masters of Italian comic opera style and timing. The most engaging quality of this performance is the witty interplay of this well-routined ensemble cast. Their joy in performing make this delightful even today. Worth noting too is the chance to hear the very young tenor Giuseppe Di Stefano. Heard here, he is not yet quite the the artist he would soon become, but his uniquely lovely tenor voice is heard in all its freshness before too many heavy roles dulled its exquisite sheen.
Sony and the Met offer this recording in excellent restored sound in a stylish budget-package at a very reasonable price. Not the greatest "Barbiere" ever, for sure, but a valuable document of a moment in the history of the Met.
18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
What a mess!Feb. 9 2011
Donald F. Bowers
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I find it hard to believe that with all the many fabulous MET broadcasts available to be released,they would release this quite awful Barber. I have always been a fan of Lily Pons, but by this date her singing was no longer what it had been. I have had this performance on LP and used to think Ms. Pons variations in the lesson scene verging on hysterically funny. Aspirates, lunging at pitches(often missed)and flat high notes do not denote a golden age. Charm, she still had, but this is not a performance to remember her by. DiStefano certainly had at this date, one of the most gorgeous instruments around, but a Rossini singer he wasnt. The lyric portions are lovely, but he couldnt even muster the facility for the most basic coloratura lines.His interpolated high C in the last act recetative thrilled the MET audiences but would have made Rossini turn over in his grave. Valdengo is really the best performance here. A manly, bright voiced Figaro with a really nice Italianate color to the voice. Hes really very good. Hines sounds 100 years old, and Baccaloni does his usual schtick. If you want a performance that is fun to listen to and no where NEAR Rossinis intention with some really sloppy singing( by the way,didnt anyone notice Pons sings an extra roulade at the end of the opera by mistake), this is for you. but its indicative of the loss of quality that Rudilf Bing strated to correct. Actually, Lily pons rarely sang in the Bing regime.
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
A souvenir of a bygone era...Jan. 31 2011
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We will NEVER hear Rossini's Il Barbiere di Siviglia performed as such in our lifetimes... NEVER! While there is much to lament in this performance... the corrupt orchestral parts (trombone, timpani, harp, etc.) and every cut in the book... there is also much to cherish.
First, the Rosina of Lily Pons... we just don't hear the part performed as such nowadays. Of course Miss Pons ignores virtually all of Rossini's mezzo based writing and recomposes the part for a high coloratura soprano. Unfortunately this recording captures her a bit past her prime, but there remains enough to enjoy. (To listen to Pons in her absolute prime, the non-commercially available 1938 MET broadcast is the one to own.) Still, her "bell song like" interpretation of "Una voce poco fa" must be heard to be believed, concluding as it does with her patented long held F in alt... so enough said. Still, it reminds me of Rossini's quip to Adelina Patti after hearing her rendition of the aria... something to the effect, "A nice aria, who wrote it?" Furthermore, she replaces Rossini's original aria in the lesson scene with a dazzling rendition of Adolphe Adam's infamous "Twinkle twinkle little star" variations elaborated with a glittering flute accompanied cadenza... but before one complains it must be noted that Rossini being a man of the theatre realized that such substitutions would invariably be the case and made a notation in the score that such replacements would be acceptable. Now whether he realized that his opera would be still be performed in an era that would give some wild stylistic choices is another matter indeed.
The Figaro is baritone Giuseppe Valdegno and he sings the part to the manner born if with some "emendations" to the vocal line. He and the legendary Salvatore Baccaloni bring a certain genuine Italian quality to the performance that is often imitated but only achieved by those for whom Italian is a first language. At times they can be a bit "over the top", but they do exude an authentic quality that can't be denied. The Basilio is Jerome Hines and his huge basso profundo is used to great effect in "La calunia".
However, the most surprising member of the cast is tenor Giuseppe DiStefano. He certainly was destined to sing grander roles and his voice is indeed more than a couple of sizes larger than we normally hear in the part. He seems to want to adapt the role to better fit his voice and in the process interpolates a couple of stentorian high C's in places normally not heard. Again Rossini would certainly not have endorsed such a decision... but heck he had the note and wanted to flaunt it... and the audience certainly approves! Incredibly he also includes some soft singing and even a mini cadenza to conclude the first section of his aria... nice touches indeed. Also, he somehow encompasses virtually all of Rossini's "little notes"... albeit with the help of some relaxed tempi (not to mention the traditional cuts)... so his performance can be deemed a reasonable success... if a more than a bit unorthodox.
Conductor Alberto Erede keeps things moving at a nice clip and an interesting feature is the use of what sounds like an old-fashioned parlor piano in the recitatives which gives the illusion of a fortepiano... a surprising harbinger to the original instrument era amid so much that is unauthentic.
So while I would not consider this as even a second Barber to place in your shelves, it is good to have as a document of how the opera was performed in a previous era. In fact the only "bad" old tradition not employed is the substitution of the aria "Manca un foglio" composed by Rossini's contemporary Pietro Romani as a replacement for Bartolo's "A un dottor della mia sorte". For that one must visit an even earlier era such as the above mentioned 1938 MET broadcast or the even earlier 1929 commercial version under Lorenzo Molajoli.
Incidentally the recorded sound is clear and undistorted monaural and as such is the equal of some commercial recordings of similar vintage. Of course this being a live performance there are some minor mishaps especially regarding ensemble along the way... but nothing major that would impede one's enjoyment of the proceedings.
So recommended as a souvenir of a bygone era... and as such I applaud the MET for making such a document available for study and enjoyment.
8 of 12 people found the following review helpful
CHIEFLY FOR "COMPLETISTS"Jan. 30 2011
David R. Eastwood
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THE BARBER OF SEVILLE / IL BARBIERE DI SIVIGLIA is one of the greatest comic operas ever written. When it opened in Rome nearly 200 years ago (February 20, 1816), it was loudly booed by an audience packed by Rossini's rival composers. Fortunately, its brilliance was recognized when it was performed in other cities, and Beethoven himself declared it a masterpiece of its kind.
This CD set was made from recordings of a "live" stage performance at the Metropolitan Opera in New York on Dec. 16, 1950. It has a rather good cast of 60 years ago, led by tenor Giuseppe di Stefano in the role of Il conte d'Almaviva, with fine support from bass Jerome Hines as Basilio, baritone Giuseppe Valdengo as Figaro, and bass Salvatore Baccaloni as Bartolo. Coloratura soprano Lily Pons rounds out the main cast as Rosina, a role written for a contralto and normally sung by a mezzo.
Some good news is that, technically speaking, this CD set is a great improvement over the flawed, amateurish transfer of the same performance that was released several years ago by a company calling itself Cantus Classics: Die Klassische Alternative.
Since Giuseppe di Stefano and Lily Pons are the only cast members who are still widely known and whose work has been largely preserved on other CDs, most listeners will be pleased to learn that their tracks are in good condition.
For this review, I made side-by-side ratings of this set's di Stefano tracks with those of an Istituto Discografico Italiano CD set's tracks of him in the same opera, recorded in Mexico City nearly two and a half years earlier (July 1948). Considering sound quality and this wonderful tenor's expressiveness as the factors, on a scale of 1-to-5, after four listenings I rated "Piano pianissimo" 3 (Mexico City) and 2 (Met); "Ecco ridente in cielo" 4 (Mexico City) and 4 (Met); "Ehi, Fiorello" 2 (Mexico City) and 2 (Met); and "Se il mio nome" 5 (Mexico City) and 4 (Met)--thus concluding that the 1948 Mexico City version is slightly better for Giuseppe di Stefano fans.
For fans of Lily Pons, I have disappointing news. Although her tracks for "Una voce poco fa" and "Dunque io son" are technically in far better condition than those of the fine mezzo Giulietta Simionato on the 1948 Mexico City set, they are definitely not prime examples of Pons's singing. At this 1950 Met performance, Pons was almost 53 years old and was largely a sentimental favorite of New York audiences. On these CDs, to my ears she sounds too much like quivery-voiced Billie Burke playing Glinda the Good Witch in the movie THE WIZARD OF OZ. While Lily Pons does do her signature stunts of holding notes two, three, or four times longer than the composer had written them and finishing on a stratospherically high note, her voice seems weak and under less than full control, and her closing note for "Una voce poco fa" is a half-tone flat. (If anyone wishes to hear her performing this and "Dunque io son" with far more feeling and much better skill, her 1935 studio recordings of both are available on CD--very well remastered--on Vocal Archive's LILY PONS.) It may be of interest to Pons fans that the showpiece she sings in the Lesson Scene of Act 2 (in place of Rossini's "Contro un cor che accende amore") is Mozart's "Ah, vous dirai-je, maman" (12 variations on "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star"); it has the same characteristic features and flaws as her other singing here, including a final note that is half a tone flat--and yet the Met audience on this CD wildly applauds her for it.
The conductor of this performance was Alberto Erede, whose tempos are generally faster than those of Renato Cellini in the 1948 Mexico City set. As most people know, the wonderful and justly famous Overture (or Sinfonia) was not composed for this opera but was recycled by Rossini from an earlier one that he had written.
I cannot recommend this set very highly. Other inexpensive sets of this opera are available to beginning listeners. The best I can do is advise di Stefano and Pons fans who are "completists" to buy this one without high hopes.
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Opera for fun...Feb. 8 2011
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This is not the Barber we know from todays performances but a look into the past. It's too much fun to dismiss and De Stefani too fabulous to ignore. I believe M. Horn brought back the alternative second act aria for a brief period but Pons is dazzling with her song. The entire cast including Bertha is a hoot.... I hope Sony gives us more from The Met.