By Jane Rosenberg
With characterizations so vivid, musicianship so accomplished, and comedy so sublime that it raises the spirits, Los Angeles Opera’s The Barber of Seville is a triumph. The cast is splendid, from the smallest role to the knockout performance of Elizabeth DeShong’s Rosina.
At every turn, this Barber delivered. From the opening chords of Rossini’s bubbling score to the last note, we were held in thrall by the LA Opera Orchestra and Maestro James Conlon’s superb rendering of this beloved music.
Trevore Ross’ direction, after the original concept by Emilio Sagi for Teatro Real Madrid, was sensitive to every nuance of human behavior, so essential in achieving true comedy. Although Beaumarchais’ characters exist on a rarified plateau where the everyday turns into myth and Rossini’s opera buffa is revered, nevertheless it still takes a talented director and a great cast to bring the poetry of this work into hearts and minds.
In brief: Doctor Bartolo wants to marry his ward, Rosina, to get his hands on her dowry. Rosina is in love with Lindoro, who is Count Almaviva in disguise. Her old guardian keeps Rosina under lock and key, so Figaro must scheme to get Almaviva into the house. In classic fashion, Bartolo is duped and the lovers prevail.
The hilarity started with the overture as a horde of black suited Rossinis emerged from a trap door and began assembling the scenery. A classic Commedia dell’Arte street scene unfolded: a narrow avenue receding in the distance and flanked by buildings on both sides, covered in a wash of creamy carved stucco representing a simplified version of the architecture of Seville.
Everything in this production honored the opera’s roots in Commedia dell’Arte, the theatre of ordinary people, with its stock characters and insolent tricksters who outwit the masters and prevail. In glorious black and white, the costume designs of Renata Schussheim made reference to Harlequin-esque patterned suits, with graphic stripes, dots, and checkerboards. Humor was in every detail of the wardrobe, oozing into the personality and body language of the wearer. In fact, it was such a fully realized world on stage, with striking sets by Llorenç Corbella, that I had an overwhelming desire to jump in and join the fun.
And what fun! If the effervescence of Rodion Pogossov’s dapper Figaro could be bottled, no one would need Cava or Prosecco (we’re in Spain, after all, with music by an Italian). Honestly, this Russian baritone can move with the grace of Astaire and the charm of Chaplin. As wily as Figaro, Elizabeth DeShong’s Rosina was a gleaming presence – her feisty character bursting through with every note of her brilliant coloratura. Her disgust for Bartolo was palpable in every scene as was her girlish delight in Lindoro. René Barbera was convincing in his ardor as Lindoro/Count Almaviva, particularly touching in his first act aria, “Ecco ridente in cielo,” putting me in mind of the lyric tenor of Alfredo Kraus.
The Doctor Bartolo of Alessandro Corbelli was every inch the greedy cuckold, from his round belly clothed in horizontal stripes to his delicate prancing feet. He gave us the intricate patter of Rossini’s score, huffing and sputtering as needed. The part of Don Basilio, the music teacher, is often overshadowed by the more prominent principals of the cast, but in this production, Don Basilio was given room to expand, literally. As he stood on a tabletop, singing to Bartolo that the best way to discredit Almaviva is through scandal (“La calunnia e un venticello”), the tablecloth literally unfurled like a parachute. It billowed and rolled, oozing across the stage like the poison of scandal.
With unadulterated glee, the Icelandic bass, Kristinn Sigmundsson brought megawatt vocal power to the aria and looked like a drawing come to life from the Nineteenth century pen of Daumier or Granville.
As Almaviva’s servant, Fiorello, Jonathan Michie was notable. And as the snuff-snorting, sneezing maid Berta, Lucy Schaufer was a slapstick delight. The men’s chorus, whether clamoring across the stage as serenading townsfolk or stomping into Bartolo’s house in military regalia, were excellent. With the addition of peasant women dancing Flamenco style in the streets, Seville was brought to life, becoming a character in its own right. The clever choreography of Nuria Castejón was on display throughout the opera. Dancers, whether acting as townspeople or servants, became the silent audience for the antics of Bartolo’s household.
With the orchestral storm of Act Two, what was once a black and white world turned into a rain of color as confetti and lighting effects simulated a downpour. From that moment on, everyone’s costumes burst into delirious pinks, reds, greens, and yellows.
No Rapunzel trapped helplessly in a tower, Rosina, at the end of the act, made ready to flee with the count. With Almaviva disclosing his true identity and Bartolo consoled with the offer of Rosina’s dowry, the lovers, amidst a riotous celebration of dance and song, ascended in a hot air balloon, waving to a grateful audience. I resisted the temptation to wave back. It was an infectiously joyful night at the opera.
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The LA Opera production of The Barber of Seville opened Feb. 28 and continues through March 22.
Figaro: Rodion Pogossov
Rosina: Elizabeth DeShong
Count Almaviva: René Barbera
Doctor Bartolo: Alessandro Corbelli
Doctor Bartolo: (March 22) Philip Cokorinos
Don Basilio: Kristinn Sigmundsson
Berta: Lucy Schaufer
Fiorello: Jonathan Michie
Officer: Frederick Ballentine
Conductor: James Conlon
Production: Emilio Sagi
Director: Trevore Ross
Scenery Designer: Llorenç Corbella
Costume Designer: Renata Schussheim
Lighting Designer: Eduardo Bravo
Chorus Director: Grant Gershon
Choreographer: Nuria Castejón
Photos by Craig T. Mathew courtesy of L A Opera
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To read more opera, dance and music reviews by Jane Rosenberg click HERE.
Jane Rosenberg is the author and illustrator of SING ME A STORY: The Metropolitan Opera’s Book of Opera Stories for Children. Jane is also the author and illustrator of DANCE ME A STORY: Twelve Tales of the Classic Ballets.