Monday, September 30, 2019

A Real Cut-Up: Lyric's 'The Barber of Seville' Delights on Opening Night, but... -- Chicago Opera Review

Opera Review

The Barber of Seville
by Gioachino Rossini
directed by by Tara Faircloth
based on original direction by Rob Ashford
Lyric Opera of Chicago
Thru October 27

Despite being one of the most frequent readers of this blog, my friend Ken was rather surprised when I recently mentioned that I have seen about 60 operas in my life, all within the past 20 years. 

Granted, the majority of the performances came before 2010, when I both met Ken and began maintaining with regularity.

Hoping to acclimate myself to the operatic art form, I had subscribed to the venerated Lyric Opera of Chicago for five full seasons between 2003-2008.

Still, even since 2010, I’ve seen and reviewed about 15 operas, including classics of the canon like The Merry Widow, Tosca, The Marriage of Figaro and Nabucco, as well as new or less-traditional titles such as Wozzeck, The Passenger, The Invention of Morel and Charlie Parker’s Yardbird.

Most of these have been by the Lyric at the Civic Opera House, where in recent years I’ve also seen all of their productions of Broadway musicals: Show Boat, Oklahoma, The Sound of Music, Carousel, The King and I, My Fair Lady, Jesus Christ Superstar and, this year, West Side Story.

But while I used to try to attend at least one or two genuine operas each year, until Saturday, I had not
seen any classics at Lyric since 2016.

So I was especially delighted to be invited to Opening Night of The Barber of Seville, a famed early 19th century work by Gioachino Rossini.

Although the storylines of many classic operas of rather light, even silly and slight, The Barber of Seville is actually classified as an “opera buffa,” meaning a comic opera.

The current production at Lyric is a revival of a 2013-14 staging that had been directed by Rob Ashford, a noted director and choreographer of Broadway musicals.

Beginning with Rossini’s sumptuous overture featuring a refrain that is familiar to me, played by the terrific Lyric Opera orchestra conducted by Sir Andrew Davis, almost everything about The Barber of Seville was a delight.

Though I had seen the opera in 2008, I didn’t much recall the story or most music, and truly relished hearing anew many individual arias or songs among various couplings of characters.

As Lindoro, a disguised count smitten by the beauteous Rosina, Lawrence Brownlee shines early on “"Ecco, ridente in cielo," while his comedic advisor in matters of courtship, Figaro—the namesake barber of Seville—is wonderfully embodied by Adam Plachetka.

His entrance song, “"Ecco, ridente in cielo,” is a particular delight, as is Rosina’s aria— "Una voce poco fa"—sung by the striking Marianne Crebassa.

Also much meriting mention are Alessandro Corbelli as Rosina’s guardian Dr. Bartolo, Krzysztof Bączyk as his pal and her music teacher Don Basilio and—for the impressive “Il vecchiotto cerca moglie” in Act 2—Mathilda Edge, a first-year Ryan Opera Center member making her Lyric debut as Berta, Rosina’s governess.

Particularly given the light tone, fine costuming (by Catherine Zuber) and swell set design by Scott

Pask, everything I witnessed and heard was enjoyable.

Whether you love opera or are wanting to explore it, I feel confident in advising that this particular production of The Barber of Seville should be a ravishing, satisfying choice. If nothing else, at most operas you won’t laugh nearly this much.


I still can’t say it changed my mind about opera.

As I was telling Ken, my previous forays into attending opera had helped me admire and appreciate the craft, the artistry, the musical form and more. Going to the Lyric always made for a special evening, and still does.

But as opposed to rock ‘n roll, Broadway musicals and some jazz, I watch opera, I don’t feel opera. 

Or as Ken put it, it just doesn’t quite stir my soul.

I was thrilled to be invited and I hope to be again, and I genuinely relished The Barber of Seville.

But not nearly as much as Paul McCartney or the Rolling Stones or Hamilton or West Side Story or other performers or works of art that intrinsically move me.

Which isn’t at all an indictment of this particular opera, nor even—in terms of appreciation—opera in general.

But in addition to reviewing The Barber of Seville, I feel compelled to reflect my experience in seeing it.

And though all aspects of this rendition were—as best I can judge—a cut above, in terms of providing holistic, intrinsic joy, I can’t quite say The Barber of Seville was indelibly styled.

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