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In Review > North America

Il Barbiere di Siviglia

BOSTON
Boston Lyric Opera
5/14/12

In Review Boston Barber 612
Fun in Boston: Coburn and Beyer in BLO's Figaro
© Eric Antoniou for Boston Lyric Opera 2012

For its penultimate production of the season, Boston Lyric Opera presented a straightforward staging of Rossini's bread-and-butter perennial, Il Barbiere di Siviglia (seen Mar. 14). Although this Barbiere may not have been among the company's strongest productions in recent years, it was still a perfectly enjoyable opportunity to hear a cast of young singers making their company debuts, and to spend an evening revisiting a brilliant opera that has become an old friend to many.

Designer Allen Moyer framed the action beautifully, greeting the audience upon arrival with a minimal set featuring a large portrait of Rossini and a small theater with attendant marionettes suspended in midair. These ascended into the flies at the overture's conclusion and were replaced with a full-scale version of the marionette theater — complete with painted audience members to observe the action and colorful line drawings as backdrops — an ingenious comment on the conventions of opera buffa that determine the workings of the music and the plot, as well as the way in which the love-stricken characters attempt to pull one another's strings to reach a desired conclusion. James Scott's colorful costumes completed the playful artificiality of the overall design. Doug Varone's stage direction was less successful in capturing the buoyant wit of the piece, relying far too much on synchronizing stage business with the musical score. This can make for clever comedic punctuation when used sparingly but wears out its welcome quickly when not.

Baritone Jonathan Beyer was appealingly loose-limbed and easygoing as Figaro, knowing exactly how to sell his opening aria, which contains some of the most recognizable music in all of opera. As Count Almaviva, John Tessier sometimes stumbled when navigating florid ornamentation, but he was a fine and suitably smitten romantic hero. As his rival for Rosina's hand, Dr. Bartolo, Steven Condy displayed a real knack for the buffo style but undercut some of the humor in his performance with a too-broad comedic approach. David Cushing, fully recovered from an opening-night illness, was in fine form, bringing an almost outrageously resonant bass-baritone to his role as Don Basilio. And as the spirited Rosina, soprano Sarah Coburn was a vivid presence, both musically and dramatically. Coburn has a sure sense of how to use ornamentation for dramatic purposes and the vocal technique to pull it off, making it look like she's having more fun than anyone else onstage.

It's a marker of how far the company as a whole has come in the past few years to note that the star of the evening was seated in the pit. In recent seasons, music director David Angus has succeeded in turning what was once a wildly uneven ensemble — capable of a good performance one night and a desultorily ragged read-through the next — into a sharply focused, musically expressive and stylistically nimble orchestra. Angus may have occasionally chosen tempos that were more rushed than energetic, but in general he and his musicians gave a performance that caught the cleverness and charm of Rossini's score, communicating a real sense of humor and fun — and reminding the listener why this staple of the repertoire continues to deserve its place on the stage. spacer 

KALEN RATZLAFF



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