Sunday, March 16, 2014

Bring on the Baritones #1: Figaro

This is going to be the first of a new series of posts on my blog where I work my way through the baritone repertoire highlighting a certain baritone role from a well (or maybe lesser) known opera. It helps me keep all the roles straight in my head....there's a lot up there and sometimes I just need to dump it all somewhere, but that's why I created this blog anyway...right?
I figured I would start with the most iconic of baritones. Anyone who grew up with Looney Tunes can tell you a little something about opera. And one of those things is that there's this really cool aria that's really hard and the singer says FIGARO FIGARO FIGARO a bunch of times. For those of you who don't know, Figaro is in fact the title character of Gioachino Rossini's Il barbiere di Siviglia better known in the English speaking world as the Barber of Seville. Yes, he is a barber but as he explains in his entrance aria, he is in fact much more than that. He actually spends his days running around conducting the business that it seems no one else wants too do. Of course his services come at a certain price, but he's such a charming person, who could say no?
I think it's time for a little example of one of the finest renditions of Figaro's "Largo al factotum" by the incomparable Thomas Hampson in a gala performance at the Met when he was a rising star in the opera world.

Any baritone will tell you that if you can make it through this aria without dying (let alone sing it well) you can win any competition. It has a well earned reputation for showing off the baritone voice. And how? The tessitura (the general part of the voice where you sing most of the notes in a song) of this aria is rather high and coupled with the patter speech typical of the bel canto period makes for a really tough aria.
Another highlight of Figaro's role is his duet scheming with Almaviva about how to get him into Rosina's house. I want to share my favorite version of this duet. A lot of people are opposed to this version because it is in German, clearly unaware of the fact that the opera world didn't really begin the whole original language fad until the second half of the 20th century. I, on the other hand, fully appreciate this rendition for it's wonderful recitative which actually sounds like real dialogue and the wonderful tempo at which they take this difficult duet. Here is Hermann Prey as Figaro and Fritz Wunderlich as Almaviva.

One last example of the awesomeness that is Figaro. He later sings a duet with Rosina which is simply charming. Once again he is scheming, this time with Rosina, to bring a letter to Almaviva who Rosina thinks is the poor student Lindoro.

I share this production more for Joyce DiDonato than for Peter Mattei, but they are really great in their roles. I think that most baritones hold Figaro as one of their dream roles, and rightfully so. Though there are many operas based on the orignal Beaumarchais trilogy of plays about Figaro, three have stood out as the best. These are the Barber of Seville (by Rossini of course), the Marriage of Figaro (Mozart), and the Ghosts of Versailles (Corigliano) and for a baritone to perform all three Figari is quite the accomplishment. I can't wait to tackle at least the first two (we'll see about the third) because the music is so wonderful. These roles are what makes Being a Baritone so wonderful!

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