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Il Barbiere di Siviglia
Michigan Opera Theatre
MOT's Barbiere, with Barbera, Hammons, Pogossov, Corbeil and DeShong
© John Grigaitis 2013
Michigan Opera Theatre opened its forty-second season with a Barbiere di Siviglia (seen Oct. 13) that was definitely a mixed bag. Chief among the production's virtues was its Rosina, mezzo-soprano Elizabeth DeShong, who gave ample evidence in what was her company debut that she is a genuine operatic force. Blessed with a splendid instrument that is rich and full from top to bottom, DeShong sailed through every demand Rossini made. Her coloratura was impeccable, her diction firm and clear. Best of all, DeShong seemed to know how to color her voice to project the various aspects of Rosina's complex personality, from coy to teasing to innocent to flirtatious to furious. Her "Una voce poco fa" was a textbook example of what Rossini singing is all about. DeShong was equally impressive in ensemble singing, managing to blend her voice with her colleagues' in brief numbers such as "Zitti, zitti, piano, piano" while still allowing her musical personality to shine through.
The stage direction of Mario Corradi was at the opposite end of the spectrum. Corradi has been a frequent visitor to MOT over the years, and his track record is studded with over-the-top visual choices that frequently blunt the impact of the operas involved. Such excesses were evident in this Barbiere. Corradi's worst transgression? The splendid music that fills up the Act I finale was weakened by excessive visual clutter. At one point near the end of the scene, soldiers standing on a staircase suddenly unfurled brightly colored fans that they waved back and forth to the rhythm of the music. Earlier, birds "shot" by cast members fell from the fly space. Such visual distractions may produce giggles from the audience, but they underestimate the awesome comedic power of Rossini's music. Russian baritone Rodion Pogossov, making an otherwise impressive MOT debut as Figaro, had to juggle some balls and do some handstands.
The remainder of the cast produced varying degrees of satisfaction. It took American tenor René Barbera some time to warm up his voice, but once that happened he sang Almaviva with lustrous tone and agile technique. Thomas Hammons was a fine Bartolo, blustering but artistically sound. Tom Corbeil was an unusually tall Basilio whose undernourished voice failed to match his height. In smaller roles, Lenora Green (Berta) and Timothy Bruno (Fiorello/Sergeant) were impressive. Suzanne Mallare Acton, the company's chorus master, conducted competently but without much flair. The simple, clever sets, originally designed by Robert Prévost and Guy Neveu for Opéra de Montréal, worked well.
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