LOS ANGELES: Il Barbiere di Siviglia
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In Review > North America

Il Barbiere di Siviglia

LOS ANGELES
LA Opera
2/28/15

The LA Opera continued its ambitious “Figaro Unbound” festival on February 28 with a revival of Emilio Sagi’s spectacular and genial production of The Barber of Seville, first seen here in 2010. For this return appearance, the production was directed by Trevore Ross, who revived Sagi’s staging impeccably, adding ironic twists of his own. There was a magic to this production that led to a brilliantly festive climax. Lorenç Corbella’s handsome, Baroque–inspired sets and Renata Schussheim’s chic, witty costumes were designed totally in black and white, emphasizing the sterility of Rosina’s predicament. But during the Act II storm, dancers in the brightest colors whirled onto the stage and suddenly the sets and costumes were painted with a scintillating array of different hues, ranging from gorgeous magentas, through varying palates of blue to deep woodland green. Suffused in Eduardo Bravo’s evocative lighting this Barber ended with as joyous a celebration of comedy as any I have seen.

This was an exuberant production. The opening scene was a bit staid, but when Elizabeth DeShong took the stage as Rosina, things really heated up. Her mezzo-soprano is rare and contradictory phenomenon. In size and range it suggests that she would be most at home in the dramatic roles of late nineteenth-century Italian opera; in its contralto depths, in particular, the voice is utterly thrilling. DeShong also has the agility normally associated with more contained voices, and this allows her to carry her ample tones easily over her entire range. She is also an admirably forthright actor, with a flair for strong characterization. There was no doubt who would be wearing the trousers in this marriage; this Rosina was no tragic Countess in training. The marvelous amplitude of DeShong’s voice had the potential to reduce the voices of the singers around her, but fortunately they responded to the challenge she set them with vigor.

René Barbera was somewhat muted in Almaviva’s opening serenade, but once he got into Bartolo’s house, his naturally light voice gained steel and energy and he delivered Almaviva’s infrequently heard final aria, “Cessa di più resistere,” with eloquent panache. Rodion Pogossov, who had made such a mark here as Papageno last year, was a dapper, enviably athletic Figaro, whose compact voice exuded confidence that he was, in the last resort, the master of all games. Alessandro Corbelli made of Bartolo an unappetizing and deeply unmarriageable old man, though there were moments at the end where one could not help but sympathize with the old codger.  The gigantic Kristinn Sigmundsson as Basilio made everyone else one stage seem small. He delivered “La calunnia” with a quite ferocious and gravelly intensity. The delightfully oddball Jonathan Michie managed to make the usually inconspicuous Fiorello into a major presence in the early stages of the performance. The atmosphere of festivity that so marked this production was in part due to the constant presence on stage of seventeen dancers who, in a manner that seems to be associated with Spanish companies and directors, cleverly embodied the communal life of the house, aided and abetted the lovers, summoned up the storm, and served as the comic muse of the production itself.

The Barber of Seville was, as James Conlon informed us in a pre-production talk, the first opera he ever conducted, in the early ‘70s. He thought he would continue conducting it throughout his career, but it was not until this 2015 performance that he has had opportunity to revisit it. He celebrated his return to the score with a masterly reading in which all of Rossini’s characteristic dynamics were in place. But he particularly elicited a touching tone out of the more Romantic, often delicate melodies, of which there are many in this score, so that one could hear where Rossini’s great successors found much of their inspiration. This was an evening filled with energy and joy. spacer 

SIMON WILLIAMS

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