Boston Lyric Opera’s “Barber” is a sparkling triumph

March 10, 2012 at 3:12 pm

By Angelo Mao

Sarah Coburn as Rosina and Jonathan Beyer as Figaro in Boston Lyric Opera's "The Barber of Seville." Photo: Eric Antoniou

During the overture, assorted characters scurried across the stage underneath a larger-than-life portrait of Rossini as a suave young man: Bartolo huffing across the stage, his household maid covertly taking snuff while cleaning the floor, and Count Almaviva’s men preparing to serenade Rosina under her window.

The spirit of Boston Lyric Opera’s excellent production of The Barber of Seville can be found in these opening moments: a synergy of vibrant stage humor and Rossini’s sparkling music, executed with skill and delight by an ensemble of charismatic and confident singers.

Count Almaviva has the first big aria of the opera, and John Tessier set the bar high with his flexible, forward tenor in Ecco ridente in cielo. On first hearing, Tessier’s tone sounds slightly thin, but his high notes open roundly, and he handles Rossini’s runs with unostentatious ease, so that the demanding coloratura sounds seamlessly part of a whole. Moreover, he sings expressively and imbues honesty into a character that, in the plot, is rather duplicitous.

Figaro, who makes his appearance after the Count’s failed attempt to woo Rosina’s affections under her balcony window, has one of the most electrifying and demanding appearances in opera. Jonathan Beyer’s baritone copes admirably with Rossini’s frenetic vocal writing, and the sheer physicality of his acting seemed to leave him slightly breathless at the end of some phrases of Largo al factotum. However, his tone is resonant and full, and charisma characterizes his every appearance on the stage.

Like Figaro, Rosina’s show-stopping aria comes at the character’s entrance, and Sarah Coburn extracted everything she could from the aria. The danger in portraying Rosina is making her into a caricature through over-ornamentation of a basically pensive aria. Rosina’s entrance number, Una voce poco fa, is about her musing on the voice (the Count’s, but in disguise as a poor student) she heard from her window. Coburn found the right balance with use of her exceptional soprano voice, which encompasses both silvery high notes and a well-supported, resonant lower register. Though a mezzo Rosina could probably have assayed the role with the center of gravity closer to the range Rossini intended, the upward ornaments and transpositions added sparkle to the character.

Bartolo, the antagonist and Rosina’s guardian, is Barber’s vital fourth character. Steven Condy’s portrayal was abetted by both an incisive bass he colored with ease, and a portly physicality that captured both the character’s ego and, surprisingly, the audience’s sympathy.

Despite the famous solo pieces, the strength of Barber lies in its duets and ensembles, and it is this chemistry that made the Boston Lyric’s production such a triumph. The singers were ably supported by David Angus, who brought out subtleties in the climaxes, and Doug Varone’s superb direction. An example of the synergy between music and direction was the handling of Rosina’s big second act aria, which lost its show-stopper nature to become a recitative highlighting the comic possibilities of the scene (Bartolo snoring while the lovers, in guise, converse). Interestingly, Rosina’s cadenza was spliced from its usual position at the end to several places in the middle, a choice that worked because it was in such sympathy with the staging.

Comprimario roles Basilio and the maid, Berta, were taken by David Cushing and Judith Christin, respectively. Due to a respiratory ailment, Cushing eschewed his first act aria, but his baritone was incisive in both recitatives and ensembles. Christin’s soprano had a hard edge, but her portrayal had tremendous brio, and the tear to the voice fit convincingly with the character of a matronly (and snuff-addicted) maid.  Boston Lyric Opera should be applauded for assembling such a fine creative team. In their hands, Rossini’s masterpiece feels as fresh as it must have two centuries ago.

Rossini’s Barber of Seville will be repeated March 11, 14, 16, and 18 at the Shubert Theatre.

Posted in Performances

2 Responses to “Boston Lyric Opera’s “Barber” is a sparkling triumph”

  1. Posted Mar 10, 2012 at 5:25 pm by Carol Taylor

    Saw it last night & thought it was fantastic! Jonathan Beyer was charismatic, comical & perfect in the role of Figaro, the mischievous matchmaker.

  2. Posted Mar 11, 2012 at 12:31 pm by Christy

    Was at Friday night’s performance. Even from the corner of the next to – very last Balcony row it was superlative. The voices combined with finely tuned stage direction made this an evening to remember. Congratulations BLO.

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