From the downbeat of the overture and the sprightly-smooth phrasing that followed, we were clearly in for a most lyrical Rossini. Conductor David Angus seemed to revel in the easy lilt and spontaneity in the music of the drama giocoso master. With skill and playfulness, Angus led a cast and production of the Boston Lyric Opera season opener, Il Barbiere di Seviglia (The Barber of Seville) at the Cutler Majestic Theater Friday. The run continues Wednesday night through next weekend.
Playful lyricism was evident in every aspect. Even when the orchestra was silent, Brett Hodgdon filled the fortepiano accompaniment of the parlando sections with wit and clever references, underscoring the fun that all the singer-actors were clearly having on stage despite monstrous difficulties. Rossini’s runs and extreme ranges tax the extremes of technique while requiring the illusion of effortlessness. Add to that the physical comedy he often asks of singers—as in this production—and the challenges can be daunting.
This cast, however, met them with enthusiasm and success. Bass-baritone Steven Condy’s solid yet flexible facility gave voice to his hilariously serious Dr. Bartolo in perhaps the most entertaining performance of the evening. By not playing Bartolo as a complete dotard, Condy added some dimension to the character, making him even funnier than usual. As Rosina, Bartolo’s young ward and foil, Daniela Mack was both charming and forceful. A quintessential coloratura mezzo-soprano, her brilliantly burly voice—reminiscent of a young Marilyn Horne—thrilled across over two octaves. Tenor Jesus Garcia was equally spirited as Rosina’s polyonymous love interest, Count Almaviva. His bright, fluid voice at times sounded on the verge of cracking, which only added a layer of youthful passion to the character’s mischievous determination. As the Barber himself, Figaro, baritone Matthew Worth, came across with nimble, milky tone perhaps a bit too tame for the part. He made up for it, however, by infusing the role with an almost boyish excitement about everything he and the others were doing on stage. David Crawford’s rich, dark bass was perfect for the unconvincingly sinister music teacher Don Basilio. Crawford’s Tim Burton-esque physical mannerisms were somewhat baffling, though after a while they just fit into the absurdity of the drama. Berta, Bartolo’s housekeeper, brings even-more-comic relief to the comedy—here played with brilliant flair and vocal zeal by soprano Michelle Trainor. In the small role of Fiorello, Almaviva’s servant, baritone Vincent Turregano revealed a smooth voice and pleasing presence that made one wish the role continued beyond Scene One.
The production design impressed as an Escher meets “Alice in Wonderland” tour de force. Set designer Julia Noulin-Mérat and costume designer Gianluca Falaschi presented primarily black, white, and red combinations of dizzying staircases and exaggerated, playing card-like outfits. The male chorus especially had to contend with over-the-top, though amusing, tri-colored costuming. The chorus singers always toed the mark musically and did an admirable job doubling as various comic supernumeraries, but their motions seemed somewhat hampered by their preternaturally puffy pants and oversized headgear. On the other hand, the clothing of Berta and Bartolo reflected a blazing barrage of nearly every color imaginable, suiting their inflated characters to a T while still allowing them to move with appropriately clumsy grace; Rosina’s pink princess dress and Cat-in-the-Hat stockings allowed Mack to indulge in some amusing skirt-related antics. Stage director Rosetta Cucchi brought it all together, calling for constant motion on stage, emulating the energetic flow of the score. She was particularly clever in leveraging the quirks of the crowded, multilevel set, especially in her skillful placement of singers in ensemble numbers that allowed each voice to be heard both individually and as part of the group.
As Richard Dyer points out in his informative notes, “Rossini may have composed [The Barber of Seville] in 13 days, but it has been running—and selling out houses—for 202 years now.” If the buzz and laughter of the sold-out house on Friday night was any indication, this opera buffa has at least another couple of centuries of life in it.
See the BMInt interview with the Rosina HERE.
Composer Tom Schnauber, co-founder of the Boston-based arts organization WordSong, who also teaches music at Emmanuel College, holds a Ph.D. in Composition and Theory from the University of Michigan.