We are here to encourage the development of gifted young singers and to stimulate the growth of New York City's invaluable chamber opera companies. But we will not neglect the Metropolitan Opera either. Get ready for bouquets and brickbats.

Thursday, August 27, 2015


Na Young Ban and Ken Harmon (photo by Chris Fecteau)

Beaumarchais' 1775 play Le Barbier de Séville was adapted by many composers but last night Dell'Arte Opera Ensemble treated us to the Paisiello version which premiered in Russia in 1782. Rossini did not write his version until 1816. It took some time for Rossini's version to eclipse Paisiello's and it is the former that usually provides the delightful belly-laughs for today's audiences. Still, this season we were fortunate enough to hear the latter version twice in one season!  Only in New York, as they say.

The Paisiello is well worth hearing for its charming melodies.  One cannot help but wonder what might have happened if Rossini had not written his version. It is quite likely that this delightful opera would have been part of every company's repertoire.

The libretto by Giovanni Petrosellini hews closely to the Beaumarchais play and there are only a few differences from the Rossini in the storytelling. The adorable heroine Rosina is still the ward of the controlling Doctor Bartolo who holds her under lock and key. Il Conte d'Almaviva has followed her all the way from Madrid to Seville to court her and, being accustomed to getting what he wants, will find a way to get her.

The wily barber Figaro will help him--for a price, of course. The music teacher Don Basilio also figures in the plot as Doctor Bartolo's ally--until some money changes hands. Beaumarchais has written a comedy, a romance, and social commentary all at once. The only character missing from Petrosellini's libretto is Berta, the housekeeper. Instead we have comic relief from the sleepy and ironically named Lo Svegliato (Vigilance) and the elderly and equally ironically named Giovinetto (Youth).

We were delighted to catch Na Young Ban's sole performance as Rosina. With ample personal charm, a beautiful soprano, and superb Italian diction, Ms. Ban performed the role to perfection. Legato lines were well phrased and the decorations nicely handled. We particularly enjoyed the aria she sings when the Count is pretending to be her music teacher. The B-section is a lament in a minor key with a marvelous bassoon accompaniment. 

The Paisiello Rosina is not the spunky Rosina of Rossini but a gentler character. Her love duet with the Count "Caro tu sei il mio ben" was lovely.  Ken Harmon made a fine Count and his serenade to Rosina "Saper bramate", with her listening from behind the jalousies, provided a gorgeous tune for his tenor, with accompaniment by lute and flute, as well as horn and strings.

As a matter of fact, everything the Metamorphosis Chamber Orchestra played was perfect with Maestra Daniela Candillari conducting with classical precision, just right for the period. Her harpsichord introduction to Act II was particularly lovely. Special props for Matheus Souza's lute!

Baritone Jay Chacon performed the very important role of Figaro and filled it with fine sound and comedic instincts.

The buffo role of Dr. Bartolo was performed by Jeff Caldwell who created a character right out of commedia dell'arte. The trio "Giusto cielo" was excellently sung by Ms. Ban, Mr. Harmon, and Mr. Caldwell. Bass Rodolfo Nieto made a fine Don Basilio singing a different "La calunnia" than we are accustomed to in the Rossini.

William Mulligan and Colin Whiteman as Giovinetto and Lo Svegliato respectively had a very funny sneezing scene in harmony.

Stage Director Emilie Rault kept things moving along and gave each character enough motivation to sustain the story. Meganne George's Scenic Design was simple but effective. The chamber orchestra occupied the right side of the wide playing space of the Nagelberg Theater at Baruch College, and the action took place mainly on a bi-level set. Folding screens served as backdrop and shutters. It was up to the singers to mime the opening and shutting and locking of doors. Lighting Design by Scott Schneider enhanced the effect.

If there was a sole shortcoming of the production it would be the costumes which left us scratching our head in puzzlement. We could not fathom why the singers had gems, pearls, flowers and tiles pasted on their faces, nor why Don Basilio's face was painted green. 

The clothes made no sense whatsoever. Even when the Count is supposed to disguise himself as a military man, there was no suggestion of military attire. We learned after the performance that Costume Designer Carly Bradt was going for a Gaudí look. The opera takes place in Seville, not in Barcelona and architecture is not a good partner with clothing.

We are eager to follow Rosina's progress tomorrow night in Mozart's Le Nozze di Figaro.  She will, by then, be wed to the Count and treated with indifference. Does life imitate art or vice versa?

(c) meche kroop

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