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Resistance is Futile

Saturday sees the season-opening revival of "Barber of Seville" at the Washington National Opera, with Lawrence Brownlee as Count Almaviva. Almaviva's final aria, "Cessa di più resistere," was cut in performance starting in Rossini's day; the composer thriftily recycled part of it into "Cenerentola," where it became known as "Non più mesta." But today the aria, with its original lyrics, is heard more and more often in "Barbers" around the world, in part because there are a couple of tenors capable of singing it well, Brownlee among them.

To get into the proper mood for the weekend, I sampled four tenors showing their stuff in the aria on Youtube, and got, if not an object lesson in florid tenor singing, a fair idea of who's good at what. But since part of the fun of these comparisons is arguing fiercely comparing notes, I'd be interested to hear what others think. Check out the four videos after the jump.

Francisco Araiza. This video makes me remember how lovely his voice was before he blew it out by oversinging (the last time I heard him live, he was attempting to sing Walther von Stolzing in Wagner's "Meistersinger," with unfortunate results). But I also find him curiously inert, not only visually, though he is so physically frozen in this clip it makes me think they ordered him not to move in front of the TV camera. I wish he was bringing more power and interest to what he's doing, but I do like the range of vocal color, particularly the soft limpid quality he gets in places; it's inert, but it's not monochrome.

When Rockwell Blake included this aria in the Metropolitan Opera's "Barber" in 1988, it merited its own press release (I'm pretty sure this clip is from the telecast of that performance). So help me, I've never "gotten" Blake, and this clip hasn't helped. To me, the voice sounds strained, and the coloratura is kind of a mess (listen around 1:48). He's clearly running out of gas by the end of the piece. And his acting is of the school that today's singers cite as the thing they want to get away from. I hope that a lot of Blake fans write in and explain to me what I'm missing.

Juan Diego Flórez just about silences the competition with this one. I've expressed reservations in the past about his edgy, bright, rat-a-tat delivery; I just prefer a sound that's less nasal or biting, and that has a little more variety in its color palette. But it's hard to argue with an authoritative performance. He does a tremendous amount with what he has, in terms of phrasing and musicality; he really shapes the piece; he's comfortable in it; and he makes it sound easy. He can also wear shocking pink and still look good. No wonder the man's a star.

I'll be weighing in on Brownlee after hearing him live in the role this weekend, so I don't want to prejudge him too much. But I like the quality and sound of the voice here. There's a bit more roundness than Flórez has, though it certainly gets bright and edgy enough in the coloratura toward the end. However, it's not quite as tough a sound as Flórez makes; Flórez's singing reaches out and grabs you by the throat, and this is more restrained, asking to be met halfway.

Your thoughts?

By Anne Midgette  |  September 11, 2009; 6:30 AM ET
Categories:  music on the Web , opera  
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