• CD Review: Il Barbiere di Siviglia (1993, Gelmetti)

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    barbiereIl Barbiere di Siviglia

    1993, EMI

    (Thomas Hampson, Jerry Hadley, Suzanne Mentzer, Bruno Praticó, Samuel Ramey, Amelia Felle; Coro della Toscana; Orchestra della Toscana, cond. Gianluigi Gelmetti)



    It surprises me that this first-rate Barbiere isn’t better known. Every member of the star-studded cast gives his or her all, both musically and dramatically, and conductor Gianluigi Gelmetti shapes the score with expertise from beginning to end. His interpretation may not quite reach the heights of comic exuberance or the pinnacle of champagne-like elegance that others do, but he still provides enough elegance and energy to make the music dance as it should. His approach is very come scritto, which takes some getting used to if you’ve grown up with recordings where the singers are allowed more embellishment, but the advantage of such composer-loyalty is that the score is performed complete and uncut, down to the last recitative and including “Cessa di piú resistere”


    Thomas Hampson is an ideal Figaro. His luxurious voice, in the “lyric baritone” stage of his career before he graduated to the works of Verdi, Wagner, etc., contains the perfect blend of refinement and muscle, and his characterization shines with laughing, quicksilver charm. Almost equally charming is Suzanne Mentzer’s spirited Rosina, sung with a rich, plummy tone and expert coloratura that only occasionally lacks sparkle. Jerry Hadley’s warm lyric tenor may be a shade heavier than is ideal for Count Almaviva, but he still sings with sweetness and agility, as well as character to spare, yet no overacting. Bruno Praticó, one of the foremost Bartolos of today, sings with a slightly sour yet rich tone and excellent patter, and strikes a perfect balance between subtlety and hamming, blustery rage and comical pathos. Samuel Ramey, in his third recording of Don Basilio, remains as formidable as ever, meeting the demands of “La calunnia” with ease and musicality that put most other basses to shame. Amelia Felle’s colorful Berta (the only one I’ve ever heard who sings her sneezes) skillfully rounds out the ensemble.


    Don’t dismiss this Barbiere just because it’s less famous than other versions – it’s a true hidden gem of a recording that would make a perfectly good introduction to Rossini’s masterpiece. It just goes to show that fame isn’t always the best measure by which to judge quality.


    Music Clip: “Largo al factotum”

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