|Mary Gwynne Langston, Laura Virella, Gennadiy Vysotskiy, Jay Gould, David Tillistrand, and Drew Watson|
Rossini's comic masterpiece Il barbiere di Siviglia is an opera one can enjoy many many times over. And so we have. It is the champagne of the opera oeuvre--light, flavorful, and effervescent. Thankfully, no one recently has tried to update it; it belongs firmly in the early 19th c. and still delights us two centuries later. It's characters seem derived from commedia dell'arte but have become more three-dimensional.
There is the lecherous old man--Don Bartolo (the very funny bass Jay Gould); there is the spunky ingenue Rosina (the winsome mezzo-soprano Laura Virella); the wily servant Figaro (impressive baritone David Tillistrand), and the lovesick youth Count Almaviva (tenor Drew Watson). We have Dr. Bartolo's oily accomplice Don Basilio (bass Gennadiy Vysotskiy) and a pair of servants afflicted by sneezing--Berta (Mary Gwynne Langston)--and yawning--Ambrogio (Ricardo Figueroa).
When we see an opera as oft produced as this one, we always wonder what a director can add to what we already know about the opera. We do believe that singers make the best directors, and we never enjoy operas in "the big house" directed by people who know nothing about opera. In this production, Artistic Director Nathan Hull directed as astutely as we have come to expect, adding several clever touches.
The one we liked the best was the trio of dancers who added visual interest to every scene in which they appeared. At first, they were clients/fans of Figaro and in the instrumental intermezzo storm scene they danced with umbrellas. It was a charming touch. Angel Joy did the choreography. Dancers were Katrina Victoria Asmar, Ashley Carter, and Victoria Manoli.
The invention we liked the least was putting the dialogue and most of the recitativi in English. The translation was awkward and the enunciation imperfect. We found ourself wishing for titles. We do admit that some of the interpolations did a good job of explaining the action and others were witty and timely; the audience certainly enjoyed them. It is just our taste which prefers Italian.
We brought home certain memories that delight us--Ms. Virella's creation of her character as a real live flesh and blood heroine who can toss off scale passages and interesting embellishments with equal aplomb in "Una voce poco fa" ; Mr. Gould's shambling walk and booming bass used in service of the arrogance of his character in "A un dottor della mia sorte"; Mr. Vysotskiy's total mastery of the role of Don Basilio, making the most of "La calunnia".
Berta's aria was given a fine performance by Ms. Lang who had to overcome youth and beauty to convince us that her Berta was scorned in love because of her age! We enjoyed Ms. Virella's duet with Mr. Tillistrand ("Dunque io son") which they invested with good comic chemistry. We liked Fiorello's serenade (Hector Mori).
Mr. Watson's comic acting served him well as the drunken soldier trying to get access to Bartolo's home. Even funnier was his turn as "Don Alfonso" a music teacher irritating Bartolo with his repetitive "Joia, pace, pace, joia". The "Buona sera, mie signore" always delights us. And the ensembles ending each act are always sheer craziness.
Well, we guess we'd have to say there was just one delight following another without a letup. Richard Cerullo was Scenic Designer and provided just what was needed. Lauren Bremen's lighting succeeded in creating the dawn during the serenade scene. Cynthia Psoras' costuming was apt and attractive.
Conductor Scott Jackson Wiley surprised us by playing the guitar during Almaviva's serenade. We consulted the program notes and, yes, he is well known as a guitarist. He did his best to pull together an orchestra that seems to always suffer from intonation problems, including a recalcitrant horn. Concertmaster Holly Horn kept the melodies coming sweetly and purely. And we heard some nice playing in the bassoon section. The harpsichord continuo was excellently performed on a synthesizer.
There will be several opportunities to catch this delightful production until New Year's Eve, for which there will be a gala with dinner and midnight toast.
(c) meche kroop