There is a sort of tradition–though by no means religiously followed–for the Lyric to close out their season with something light. This year, they have followed that tradition with Rossini’s take on the first of Beaumarchais’s Figaro plays. What results is a gleefully silly performance that kept the audience laughing from beginning to end.
Count Almaviva (Jack Swanson, ten) arrives in Seville, incognito, and falls for the beautiful Rosina (Cassandra Zoe Velasco, mezz), ward of Doctor Bartolo (Matthew Burns, bass). Enlisting his old friend Figaro the barber (Jarrett Ott, bar) to help woo her, he sneaks into the Doctor’s house via various tricks and guises, and manages to win her over. The Doctor, meanwhile, who wishes to marry her for her inheritance, enlists the wily Don Basilio (Brian Banion, bass) to foil their plans and keep the girl for himself. What follows is about three hours of capers that would not be out of place in any classic 20th century farce.
Comedy in opera doesn’t always work–this reviewer can call to mind multiple occasions when it did not–but in this case, the cast turn in an excellent performance. The jokes are crafted to blend well with the spirit and look of the production (incidentally, I might take this moment to explain that The Useless Precaution is an alternate title to the opera. Just bear that in mind.) Ott hits the stage fully up-to-voice, and keeps the performance–and the energy–at peak through to the very end. He has excellent stage presence, and really does a fantastic job with this role. Ms Velasco also has a most charming voice, and really provides a sort of baseline emotional depth to all the silly goings-on. Mr Burns’ doctor is consistently funny, and indeed gets the lion’s share of the laughs through the evening. Special mention must also be made of Ruby Dibble & Robert Gibby Brand as Berta & Ambrogio, Bartolo’s servants, each of whom turns in a fine comic performance.
A note must be made of the look of this production: the scenery comes via Shoko Kambara, with costumes by Amanda Seymour. Director Michael Shell has gone with a sort of late sixties look, drawing from Pedro Almodóvar (and, we suspect, a soupçon of Fellini). The look is visually bold, with a very strong color palette, and strong visual touches. It was an unusual take, reminding one to a degree of the recent production of The Magic Flute which made use of Jun Kaneko’s unique visual designs. Happily, it works quite well, and the result is as pleasing to the eye as to the ear.
Rossini’s Seville is a reminder that before opera was perceived as the exclusive domain of the hopelessly highbrow, they were popular entertainments, there to be enjoyed. Not profound, not Important, but grand and funny and moving and wicked and everything we look for in our entertainment today. This production, in short, is just plain fun. And that’s how Rossini would have wanted it.