Monday, May 7, 2007
The Barber of Seville
I owe a huge thank you to Melinda and her Aunt Jenny, who invited me to tag along on what has to be one of the more...well, brag-worthy nights of my life. Jenny was a good high school friend of Joyce DiDonato (pictured above), an increasingly famous mezzo-soprano currently playing the lead female role of Rosina in The Barber of Seville at the Metropolitan Opera. Jenny had flown out to New York to see the show, so we all went together - and it was fabulous. This is the third Rossini opera I've seen now (Guillaume Tell at the Paris Opera, and The Marriage of Figaro last year at the Met), and of the three, I have to say I liked The Barber of Seville best - it's so approachable, so immediately appealing, so playful and fun. This production was less visually stunning than The Magic Flute, which was visually the most extraordinary opera I've ever seen, but the music - absolutely divine.
Joyce truly has a phenomenal voice - the kind that sounds effortless, without a hint of strain or cracking or heavy breathing, even when tripping through the score of The Barber of Seville which is fast and full of trills. She has some amazing arias, but I was perhaps most impressed by the scene where her love, disgused as a music teacher, is giving her a singing lesson while her evil guardian slumbers in a nearby armchair. She has to shift rapidly between a very formal, stately, but perfectly executed style of singing (for when she's afraid that the evil guardian is listening, and wants him to see a dedicated student devoted with all due seriousness to her music lesson), and a much more fluid, natural, vibrant style, still perfectly executed (for when she is too thrilled by the proximity of her beloved to suppress her joy and it bursts forth in song). It's all one song, and as far as I can tell what it takes to shift several times between the more formal and the more fluid style of singing, making it absolutely clear to the audience what's going on when, without faltering...well, what it takes is pure virtuosity, pure talent.
Anyhow, after the opera the four of us (Melinda's sister rounded out the party) descended from the worst seats in the house to...the backstage! At the Met! We saw all the extra-special-diva dressing rooms (supplied, bien sur, with divans and pianos and original costume sketches and mock-ups)...the phone was ringing in Figaro's room, but he was already gone, and Jenny kept threatening to answer by saying, "Hi, I'm backstage at the Met and you're not!" - she didn't, but we all understood the sentiment.
Then we went out for an after-show nibble with Joyce, and two of the other lead singers: Lawrence Brownlee, who plays the count, Rosina's love interest, and John Del Carlo, who played Dr. Bartolo, the evil guardian. The opera ended at 11pm and we were all at the restaurant until 3 in the morning, easy. It would have been your everyday average fun and interesting dinner out, except that three of the guests were world-class opera singers. The only thing that all of them had in common, as far as I could tell, was that they were all very socially adept - polite, friendly, diplomatic, positive, at ease with strangers. I'm not sure if that's something you need in order to be successful, or just something that you're forced to learn once success arrives - but they all had the skills. That, and John Del Carlo has the lowest, most melodic, booming laughter I have ever heard.
I might add - Joyce DiDonato's mother had died the day before. It was hard to know what to say; I was thinking a great deal about having spent so much of the latter part of 2006 with my family as my grandmother was dying. I mostly sat on my end of the table, wishing her well and letting her spend time with the friends who could offer her real comfort, instead of the strangers whose sympathy wouldn't mean quite as much. It was pretty brave of her to get up and perform, and impressive to have done such a great job of it, under those circumstances.