12/19/2012 03:10 pm ET Updated Feb 18, 2013

Met Opera: A "Barber of Seville" That Is Fun for the Whole Family

It is a rare treat to hear the laughter of children rippling through the Metropolitan Opera House, and the company's new and abridged English-language version of Rossini's great comic opera The Barber of Seville provides fun for the whole family.
Streamlined to just two hours, including the intermission, and boasting a smart and funny new translation by the poet and librettist J.D. McClatchy, the Met's compact Barber offers a holiday entertainment alternative to dancing sugar plum fairies or Ebenezer Scrooge's ghosts.
Using Bartlett Sher's 2006 production of the full opera, which restored the work to its farcical origins with 9 doors and a balcony on wheels along with a thrust runway around the orchestra pit, this version features fireworks, smashed pumpkins, and exploding carrots. There is also a very cuddly looking donkey.
All of this is done without sacrificing any of the musical integrity of what is arguably the greatest opera buffa in the repertory. The trims come mostly from shortening individual arias and some scenes, and if you didn't already know the opera you probably wouldn't be aware they had been made.
For any opera aficionado who may be squeamish about hearing an Italian opera sung in English, McClatchy's translation is clever and imaginative, employing modern phrasing and rhyming couplets, and counting syllables to fit the line of music. McClatchy is always mindful of and faithful to the spirit of Cesare Sterbini's original libretto, even when he expands on it, as in one humorous passage in which he pokes fun at opera itself.
The plot, based on Beaumarchais's classic play, revolves around the efforts of Count Almaviva, posing as poor youth, to woo and wed Rosina, the beautiful ward of Doctor Bartolo, who keeps her locked away and has designs of his own to marry her. But with the help of Figaro, the wily and shrewd barber of the title, Almaviva manages to finagle his way into Don Bartolo's house and, to paraphrase McClatchy's text, all the cheese lands on his macaroni.
For the opening performance, the cast was nearly an all-American one. The only principal not home-grown was the Russian baritone Rodion Pogossov as Figaro. He cut a devil-may-care figure and his English was among the best understood on stage. The famous Act 1 aria ("Largo al factotum" in Italian; "You need a barber in Seville?" in McClatchy's deft translation) was admirable though a shade slower in tempo than the breakneck speed of some singers.
Isabel Leonard, a native New Yorker, was a knockout as Rosina. Alternately coquettish and cunning, she has a smile that could twist any man around her finger. Leonard, who sang Miranda in The Tempest at the Met earlier this season, has a thrilling voice, crystal clear and effortless, especially in the familiar soprano aria "In my heart I hear a voice" (or "Una voce poco fa" in Italian).
Alek Shrader, a tenor whose Met debut was also in The Tempest this year, was dashing as Count Almaviva, ardent in his pursuit of Rosina and humorous in the drunken scene. He has a pleasant voice, but one that is a bit thin in the upper registers. John Del Carlo was properly pompous as Dr. Bartolo, and the ensemble numbers, with Jordan Bisch as Don Basilio and Claudia Waite as Berta, were rousing.
The Met is offering this special holiday version of The Barber of Seville six more times during the season, including a matinee this Saturday and an 11 a.m. performance on Dec. 26, and while some of the cast may change in subsequent shows, it is a joy to see and hear and the kids of all ages loved it.