ne can look at this as either a brash satire of Rossini’s cultivated comedy or an attempt to realize its wit in 1970s American terms: blandly ridiculous and full of bad jokes, but all done with such agreeable commitment that for the moment it’s modestly persuasive anyway. Most of the cast is young and nicely trained. Their characterizations generally lie in their costumes, though: Figaro is dressed as a barber pole, “Lindoro” is decorated with leatherbound books, Bartolo’s cane is a huge key, and Basilio’s hat is a church.
It’s a romp in the Sills NYCO style: what one believes is that the singers are having fun trying out period impersonations. Henry Price is personably stiff, Titus a goodhumored athlete, Ramey eager, and Gramm comically skillful. Beverly Sills is an engaging mistress of the audience, and the videotape is most valuable for preserving that aspect of her style, muted even on her “actual performance” audio records. In “Un voce” she decorates outrageously and plays her cadenzas to the audience. “Here I am,” she implies with a wink, “a prima donna with a sense of humor, and I am going to entertain you. This is Rosina. Isn’t she amazing, and aren’t we having fun?”
The approach,and the brilliantly negotiated aria, get huge applause. In the lesson scene she sings “Contra un cor” and then the “Ah, Vous Dirai-je Maman” variations with equally spectacular accuracy. One understands again the several facets of her reputation. The others are in healthy voice, though vocal and verbal coloring, beyond the obvious, are in short supply.
Henry Price has a light, sweet voice and some reassuring agility, while Ramey and Titus are full of youthful resonance. Sarah Caldwell conducts with wit. Much of the stage business, though, is on a level with the costumes. Technically the videotaping is adequate, though the picture blurs very briefly once or twice. But this is a Barber of a special kind, with attractive singers in a performance very much for its audience. It recalls an era.