|Patricia Mullenaux, Charles Gray, Madison Marie McIntosh, Yun-Kwan Yiu, Sam Varhan, and Don Raymond in Vocal Productions NYC's Barber of Seville at the Rose Nagelberg Theater|
Rossini's opera buffa, Il Barbiere di Siviglia, has been delighting audiences for two centuries with its ear tickling melodies tumbling out from capo to fine and it's charming age-old story about rebellious young lovers triumphing over possessive parent figures. Indeed, we never tire of Cesare Sterbini's witty libretto adapted from Pierre Beaumarchais' comedy. The situations are hilarious and it is impossible not to fall in love with the spunky Rosina, the wily Figaro, and the clueless Count.
In the role of Rosina, we heard the marvelous mezzo-soprano Madison Marie McIntosh who always astonishes us with her lavish ornamentation and seamless races through the vocal register. She had just the right mix of rebellious girlish glee and womanly resolve, and sang "Una voce poco fa" with pinpoint accuracy in the ornamentation, much of which was original. She is definitely superstar material.
Before we move on, she is also cast for Saturday night, and the famous bass Valentin Peytchinov, who is the founder and Artistic Director of VPNYC, will himself sing the role of Don Basilio on that same date. Most of the roles are double and triple cast and we recognize the names of so many of the singers we enjoyed at the VPNYC benefit on Giving Tuesday which we reviewed earlier. So you can't go wrong no matter which date you choose. But the run ends Sunday so don't miss out!
As most of you know, Rosina is the ward of the grumpy Dr. Bartolo who would like to get his hands on her dowry and probably her person as well. She has been secretly wooed by one "Lindoro" who is actually the Count Almaviva in disguise. Tenor Sam Varhan has a distinctive comic flair and was hilarious in his disguises as a drunken soldier and as a music teacher.
In a wig itself worthy of giggles, Charles Gray performed the role of Dr. Bartolo and impressed us with his acting and singing. "A un dottor della mia sorte" was sung with pomposity and fine phrasing. He deals graciously with his ultimate defeat and we admire him for good sportsmanship.
Aiding and abetting the romance between Rosina and the Count is the wily Figaro who seems to come up with clever ideas in proportion to the amount of baksheesh he gets. Baritone Yun-Kwan Yiu gave an engaging performance. It seemed to be a running joke that he kept appearing in different wigs.
We loved his duet with Rosina in Act I -- "Dunque io son...tu non m'inganni?" He also had a fine duet with the Count "All'idea di quel metallo".
The slimy music teacher Don Basilio was performed by the bass Gennadiy Vysotsky who carried off the aria "La calunnia è un venticello" along with some fine help from the percussionist.
Berta is one of Dr. Bartolo's much put upon servants and we always enjoy the aria in which she laments her loneliness. This was finely performed last night by Patricia Mullenaux who doddered around the stage in humorous fashion. Dr. Bartolo's other servant Ambrogio was performed with much comic stage business by Don Raymond, who also performed the role of Fiorello, leading his ragtag group of musicians in the Count's opening serenade. It was interesting to see women in this group of musicians! Bill Atkinson was Chorus Director.
Jane Leathers did a fine job of directing, keeping things moving briskly and giving each performer stage business that helped to create his/her own character.
Kent Gasser designed an effective set which included Rosina's balcony above. This set element revolved so that we could see her bedroom on the other side of the doors. Dr. Bartolo's home was furnished with the necessary harpsichord, table and chairs, and a chaise longue. Figaro had a portable salon on wheels with all the accoutrements of a barber and hair stylist.
The lighting by Michael Celentano and Eowyn Joy was particularly effective during the storm scene, assisted by some stormy sounds coming from the orchestra which played well for Maestro Francisco Miranda.
Costuming by Hannah Conradt was colorful and period appropriate. Ms. McIntosh looked adorable, the military looked official, and the music teachers looked scholarly.
Finally, we would like to mention how excellently the cast sang the Italian. There was a wonderful ensemble feel which made the septet at the conclusion of Act I an absolute delight. Not only was the Italian diction excellent but the voices were well balanced as well. One of the major advantages to opera in a smaller theater is the opportunity to hear the different vocal lines instead of a wash of sound.
(c) meche kroop