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.