Il Barbiere di Siviglia
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Il Barbiere di Siviglia

Opera Omaha

In Review Omaha Barbiere hdl 216
John Moore as Figaro in Michael Shell's production of Barbiere at Opera Omaha
Photo by Kent Sievers

OPERA OMAHA's fifty-eighth season opened on October 14 with Rossini’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia in a staging by Michael Shell that was hilariously delightful with every random turn. Set in Spain during the Seville Fair, the highly stylized production, previously seen in Philadelphia and Saint Louis, is more like a Mexican comic variety show than the Almodóvar films that supposedly inspired it; the staging featured high-energy fun with a string of random events and characters. There was a clown on stilts aptly placed for Figaro’s “una la volta,” a bumbling chorus, cross-dressers, naughty nuns, and the obligatory randomly appearing chicken. 

The creative driving force behind all this random ridiculousness was the thoughtful and detailed score study of director Shell. Every “bit” was so perfectly timed and drawn from the score that Shell’s masterful storytelling obliterated the need for the supertitles, allowing the audience to sit back, relax, and enjoy this exhilaratingly funny production. And, like all great storytellers, he kept you energized, engaged, and wanting more. The set design by Shoko Kambara was efficient and whimsical, and provided the perfect backdrop to the ensuing comedy. Costumes, designed by Amanda Seymour, featured random styles from the early 1800s to modern day, adding playfulness and color. The whole extravaganza was brilliantly lit by lighting designer Driscoll Otto.  

The success of the evening was due to an incredible cast, headed by baritone John Moore in the role of Figaro. The ease and confidence with which he sang “Largo al factotum,” along with his full, beautiful tone, signaled to everyone that this was going to be a great night. Matthew Burns was an exemplary Doctor Bartolo, with his consistently strong tone from low to high and from start to finish, save in the aria “A un dottore …,” in which the very spritely B section was taken too fast, forcing Burns to drop his energy level in order to be accurate with the text. The Count Almaviva of Pittsburgh native Andrew Bidlack was full of youthful energy and confidence. He sang with great sensitivity, and by Act II, his voice’s full color and strength blossomed. Sandra Piques Eddy’s libidinous Rosina was alluring. Her singing was artful, but at times lacked a relaxed quality. 

Bass Peter Volpe and soprano Katrina Thurman were delightful as Basilio and Berta, providing further hilarity. The show was stolen by local actor Ron Chvala, who was hysterically funny in his random shuffling across stage as the deadpanned, blind and mute Ambrogio.

Conductor Steven White was sensitive to the singers’ needs, and the orchestra (musicians of the Omaha Symphony) displayed an impressive control over quality at soft dynamics. White’s tempos, however, seemed to fluctuate between cautious and controlled, specifically in the Count’s and Rosina’s arias, and ridiculously fast in Bartolo’s aria and all the Quintets. Other moments, as in “Largo al factotum,” seemed to have exactly the right amount of energy for the scene. Recitatives were brilliantly realized by harpsichordist Eric Andries, whose clever musical witticisms further added to what was a grand night of joyous entertainment for all. —Kevin Hanrahan 

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