ngel’s new Barber of Seville is an uncommonly shipshape performance, thanks not only to James Levine’s precise, energetic conducting but to the lively, vocally adept characterizations contributed by the leading singers. One would be glad for so fine a Barber in the theater. Yet as a totality on records it adds up to less than the sum of its parts. Even the engineering is ordinary, with recurrent pre-echo in evidence. For one thing, there has been a lot of talk in recent years about the musical text of The Barber, with Denis Vaughan and Alberto Zedda preparing cleaned-up editions. (The Zedda version has been recorded by Deutsche Grammophon.) Judging from the sound and the liner notes of Angel’s new album, what we have here is just the standard score with some repairs-piccolos reinstated, Basilio’s “Calunnia” aria put back in its original key, cut material restored, including the dramatically important scene in which Rosina thinks “Lindoro” has betrayed her by acting as a front man for Count Almaviva.
The real changes in the music, however, stem from rewriting Rosina’s part for high soprano, which means altering many of her lines, exchanging some with Figaro in the ensembles and transposing two pieces into higher keys. Beverly Sills is, of course, a capable technician and tasteful, intelligent stylist. Much of her Rosina is lively and entertaining. The fact remains that it is not one of her best roles, and only in an interpolated aria before the storm scene (authorized by Rossini for a revival in Italy) does she come into her own
Her tenor partner, Nicolai Gedda, also amplifies his part, tackling the rondo finale that is almost always cut. Unfortunately, his coloratura throughout the opera is delivered without the precise articulation this music demands, and there are passages that sound perilously like bleating. What Gedda does do to perfection is capture the aristocratic nature of Almaviva. The lower roles are in capable hands, with Sherrill Milnes a spirited, cleversounding Figaro once he gets past “Largo al factotum” (exaggerated as if for the stage, too much so for the microphone). Renato Capecchi as Bartolo alternates between two voices - straight singing in the difficult parts, like the uncut “A un dottor della mia sorte,” a sort of pinched semi-recitation for much of the rest. It would be revealing to hear him simply sing the whole thing, which is what Ruggero Raimondi does with Basilio, bringing the role a creaky dignity that enhances its comic contribution to the ensemble. The assignment of Berta to veteran Fedora Barbieri is, however, an embarrassment.