There’s a reason Rossini’s comic classic is among the most-performed works in opera. It is a delight from the first note of the world-famous overture to the final triumph of love at the end. With a story known to all and music so famous it was used in Bugs Bunny cartoons it only remains to be seen how each production handles the famous story of the lovesick Count and the wily barber outsmarting the lecherous, old villain.
The Lyric Opera’s new production of The Barber of Seville is everything an opera lover can wish for. From superb singing of every note in this vibrant production to the ensemble’s exceptional comic timing, every minute is a delight.
Beginning with the male chorus on stage as musicians, backing up Count Almaviva’s (the dynamic Lawrence Brownlee) serenade to the fair Rosina (the vivacious Marianne Crebassa), the comic tone is set. Not only is every one of them in-character as musicians extremely eager to please and get paid, but there’s also some fairly hilarious business with their various lutes, flutes, and drums, including a shredding style, on-the-ground lute solo as performed by Angus Young from AC/DC. Bravo to chorus master Michael Black for not only making them sound fabulous but giving them real character moments in this character-driven opera.
Everything is similarly over the top and farcical. The only thing here that is no joke is the immense talent the singers bring to their roles. There’s so much patter, so much vocal embellishment in all of these roles that at the galloping pace of comedy it would be easy to go wrong or lose control, even for a second, but no one does.
Additionally, this is a set of powerful singers and brilliant comic actors, any one of whom is capable of stealing any scene they’re in, perfectly balanced together and running like a finely-tuned machine. It’s a true ensemble, and with each one of them so capable of running away with it, it’s a testament to their professionalism and service to Rossini’s brilliant music and directors Rob Ashford and Tara Faircloth’s vision, that they don’t. Each one gets his or her moments to shine, and when it’s not their turn they’re helping to keep the audience’s attention focused on the singer taking the lead in moving the story forward.
While the comedy is very broad as the story goes on, there are small, realistic moments of business that grounds it in reality and makes everyone relate. From perfectly charming Figaro (Adam Latchetka) sustaining a paper cut when Rosina snatches a letter from his hand to Bartolo’s (the brilliant Alessandro Corbelli, a Bartolo specialist) horror when Almaviva draws a line on his wood floor with a sword point, it’s adorable little touches like this that are one of the reasons this production is so special.
And there’s no denying that the casting helps. Not just because they’re all so fabulous in their roles, but because Brownlee with his utterly commanding presence, huge voice and small stature paired with the taller Crebassa or the much taller Plachetka makes for visual comedy galore. And they all go for it in the most good-natured, silly way, but nobody is overpowering anyone here. They’re working together for the laugh. It’s beautiful to watch as well as listen to as they all play off each other for maximum comic effect.
Adam Platchetka is an effortlessly charming Figaro. He has all the chops and all of the charm you need to be the town’s romantic fixer, and his above-average working-class guy, rolling his eyes a bit at the silliness of the rich while making profit off it is wonderful to watch. Rosina is a very silly part, but mezzo Marianne Crebassa gives her real heart and wit if not much depth and her vocal stylings and comic timing are superb. Alessandro Corbelli could have run off with the entire show, he’s such an utterly fantastic Bartolo and sings so well, but he did just enough not to overpower, but to do everything to perfection. Krzysztof Baczyk, making his Lyric Opera debut, was a perfectly odious and ridiculous Basilio and added a lot of cape-swirling Snape-like flair to his performance.
Two of the Lyric’s Ryan Center performers were also featured. Mathilda Edge was truly wonderful as exasperated maid, Berta in her Lyric debut. Her voice blended perfectly with the other very strong singers on stage and she’s a good and subtle actor and I look forward to seeing much more of her in the future. Eric Ferring was also very good as A Sergeant, though the part doesn’t allow him to sing nearly enough.
The set, designed by Scott Pask is very beautiful. Suggesting Seville just enough through the use of wrought iron and tile without being literal. It gives the whole frothy confection an airy feel. Costumes by Catherine Zuber are both period and flattering to everyone. The wigs by Sarah Hatten are either perfect or ridiculous enough to be sight gags on their own.
You can, and should, get tickets at the Lyric box office.
All images by Todd Rosenberg.