Opera Review: Rossini's Barber of Seville

Seattle Opera’s first production of the New Year (and the new decade), Rossini’s ‘Barber of Seville’ has started the year out on a high note. ‘Barber’ is considered by many to be the defining opera buffa (comic opera) and it is clear to see why – the recent production ranks as perhaps the funniest opera I’ve ever seen.

Rossini supposedly composed the opulent score in fewer than three weeks, which was not uncommon for him – he wrote operas quickly and frequently, completing an average of two a year (though once he wrote 4). Many of these were immediate hits. ‘Barber’ was an exception.

On the opening night, the performers (and Rossini) were met by jeers and hisses, and the opera was slated to go down as one of the greatest flops in operatic history. But something else entirely happened at the second performance – the opera was greeted with wild applause, cheers, and soon became one of the great hits, touring the world and becoming one of the first operas to be performed in America. It came out later that the opening night response was the result of mob mentality and several well-placed supporters of one of Rossini’s rivals, who had written a similar opera a few years before.

In Seattle’s production, only cheers were heard at the conclusion of the opera, as the cast took curtain call after curtain call. And it is clear to see why:

It is rare to find strong singers who are also gifted actors, and it is even rarer to have a cast filled with them, but this ‘Barber’ has managed to do just that. In the title role of Figaro, David Adam Moore performed with great humor, though his voice seemed especially weak in the first act (I learned later that he had sung the previous night, having taken over for the ailing Gold Cast member – kudos for managing this feat so well).

As Count Almaviva, Nicholas Phan (in his Seattle Opera debut) displayed a wonderfully expressive vocal quality and a gift for comedic timing. His “drunk scene” was particularly amusing, as were the moments when he revealed his true identity to the Police Sergeant (played by Adrian Rosas).

But it is the object of Almaviva’s affections, Rosina, who really stole the show. Played by Kate Lindsey (who is quickly becoming my favorite mezzo around, particularly after last year’s Amelia), she took charge of the stage with her powerful coloratura and exquisite humor, turning circles around the men of the story.

Here let me pause to take a moment to congratulate Peter Kazaras on his excellent staging (this is not an opera where everyone stands still, thank goodness) and John Stoddart for his economical and clever revolving set (the villa of Rosina’s guardian, Dr. Bartolo). Their contributions helped make this opera the success that it is.

Returning to the cast, I must also mention the three supporting roles: As the scheming Dr. Bartolo, Patrick Carfizzi provided the perfect combination of pomposity and greed that is necessary to the part (not to mention the best diction I have ever heard onstage). As Don Basilio, the long-suffering music teacher, Burak Bilgili was the weakest actor, but he had his shining moments (as in the scene when he is being pushed out the door). Finally, as Bartolo’s overworked and ageing maid Berta, Sally Wolf sang with gusto, passion, and a great sense of style. My compliments also to the two non-singing parts, Bartolo’s servant (reminiscent of Argus Filch) and Figaro’s assistant. They brought good humor to their scenes.

This production of ‘Barber’ was well worth the price of the ticket – I would quite willingly see it again and again. It is nice to know that opera buffa is alive and well in the Pacific Northwest, and even nicer to hear it performed by such fine singers.

If you’d like to watch or listen to a performance of this opera, click here to see what the library offers.

Evan, Teen Advisory Group
Northeast Branch

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