OPERA NEWS - Il Barbiere di Siviglia
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In Review > North America

Il Barbiere di Siviglia

On Site Opera

In Review Onsite barbiere hdl 815
Monica Yunus as Rosina and David Blalock as Count Almaviva in On Site Opera’s production of Paisiello’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia at the Fabbri Mansion
Photo by Rebecca Fay

On June 9, at Manhattan’s elegant Fabbri Mansion, Eric Einhorn’s enterprising On Site Opera — which presents site-specific work — launched an intriguing three-season exploration of unfamiliar operas adapted from Pierre Beaumarchais’s Figaro trilogy. The series opened happily with Giovanni Paisiello’s worthy Il Barbiere di Siviglia (1782), led with brio and admirable ensemble under testing acoustical circumstances by Geoffrey McDonald, who had eight fine instrumentalists at his disposal. For the opening scenes, they played in a corner of the courtyard (which would suit Act IV of Mozart’s Nozze di Figaro rather better than what we often see these days) and in the library from the same angle. Liz Faure’s guitar capably underlaid the secco recitative — wisely much trimmed. Singers never needed obvious cueing, and the evening’s musical side gave much pleasure.

After Neapolitan successes, Paisiello spent eight years at the court of Catherine the Great. For Barbiere, he worked with a libretto by Giuseppe Petrosellini that hews close to Beaumarchais, with comedy perhaps subdued for the sake of the romantic plot. The opera had its première in 1782 in St. Petersburg and enjoyed considerably popularity worldwide. As mentioned in Will Berger’s program essay, the accepted wisdom about Rossini’s 1816 version instantly obliterating its performance history is untrue, though Paisiello’s Barbiere eventually became rare.

Candida K. Nichols’s excellent Edwardian costumes helped set the tone for Einhorn’s high-energy but never vulgar production. Only Isaiah Musik-Ayala’s creditably boomed Basilio really leaned towards shtick, and even he avoided the irreal sitcom nonsense usually foisted on us in the “other” setting of these characters’ world. Soprano Monica Yunus made Rosina appealing yet wistful, singing with warmth and color if rather less than fully fielded trills. David Blalock’s unflappable Almaviva was another charmer, his dark tenor negotiating his music stylishly. Andrew Wilkowske’s Figaro didn’t stand out for vocal richness, but the baritone is a genuine, live-wire comic actor with fine linguistic skills. The solid-toned bass-baritone Rod Nelman also proved very amusing without any caricature as Bartolo.

Even if Rossini’s work indisputably displays more genius, Paisiello’s offers consistent grace, with lovely introductions to the more elegiac pieces, plus several structurally interesting numbers, none more than the trio for Bartolo and his two servants, the best use of the (often tiresome) comic convention of yawning and sneezing I’ve heard in opera buffa. Baritone Benjamin Bloomfeld and (in parts originally for tenor) soprano Jessica Rose Futran offered nice vocalism and comic vibes as the put-upon help. Succeeding On Site summers will feature Marcos Portugal’s 1799 Il Matrimonio di Figaro — as yet unheard in North America — and the U.S. première of La Mère Coupable (1966) by Darius Milhaud. —David Shengold

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