Daniela Mack shines brightly in BLO’s zany “Barber of Seville”

October 13, 2018 at 11:14 am

By Jonathan Blumhofer

Daniela Mack and Jesus Garcia in Rossini's "The Barber of Seville" at Boston Lyric Opera. Photo: Liza Voll

Daniela Mack and Jesus Garcia in Rossini’s “The Barber of Seville” at Boston Lyric Opera. Photo: Liza Voll

Given that three of Boston Lyric Opera’s 2018-19 offerings explore various shades of darkness, it was appropriate that the company start things off on a light note with The Barber of Seville. Rossini’s comic opera opened the company’s season Friday night at the Emerson Cutler Majestic Theater.

An 1816 adaptation of Pierre Beaumarchais’ 1775 play, Barber follows the adventures of its title character, Figaro, as he assists the Count Almaviva in wooing and marrying the fair Rosina. Complicating matters, she’s also being pursued by the miserly old Dr. Bartolo, who is after Rosina’s substantial inheritance. Various disguises and plot twists later, Figaro and Co. beat Bartolo at his own game and all ends happily – at least until things pick up, chronologically, in Barber’s sequel, The Marriage of Figaro.

It’s a zany world, to be sure, but not one that’s all sweetness and light. At its heart, Bartolo and his conniving associate Don Basilio are archetypes of a powerful class that seeks to preserve the status quo at any cost. Figaro, Almaviva, and Rosina will risk everything to change it. Though the opera unfolds as comedy, Barber’s fundamental conflict is timeless and serious.

BLO’s new production shifts the tale into a fantastical, abstract setting. Julia Noulin-Mérat’s sets evoke M. C. Escher’s famous lithograph Relativity, with staircases veering off in all sorts of impossible directions. That visual disorder reflects the opera’s chaotic scenario and the characters’ various plots for resolving their dilemmas. A pair of squat towers anchor the stage action.

Vocally, Friday’s opening performance belonged to mezzo-soprano Daniela Mack. Making her company debut, Mack’s Rosina was a compelling, noble force of nature. Her tone was supple and technical command excellent, with Rossini’s coloratura flourishes (especially in “Une poco voce fa” and “Contro un cor che accende amore”) firmly projected and precisely sung.

Jesus Garcia’s Almaviva was sweet-toned enough but his execution was sometimes marred by a wobbly vibrato that, at its worst, interfered with his melismatic runs. The opening “Ecco, ridente in cielo” sounded cautious and the Count’s subsequent arias (the Act 1 Canzone aside) never completely overcame that impression. As the imposter music teacher Don Alonso and the drunken soldier, Garcia fully – and slightly outrageously – inhabited a pair of characters; would that his Almaviva had consistently displayed such vocal gusto.

Similarly, Matthew Worth’s Figaro proved rather elusive. Though he sang with plenty of power, Worth never seemed fully comfortable in the lighter demands of Rossini’s style. His “Largo al factotum” was reserved and, in his upper register, Worth’s voice sounded stretched and thin.

As Bartolo, Steven Condy was terrific: full of bluster and fury, and tossing off his patter song (“A un dottor della mia sorte”) with aplomb.

David Crawford’s ghoulish Don Basilio exhibited big tone and elegant diction. “La calunnia e un venticello” glinted menacingly and Crawford proved himself an actor with strong comic chops in the process.

As did Michelle Trainor in the part of Berta, Bartolo’s housekeeper, who made the most of her Act 2 aria.

The men of the BLO chorus sang heartily, and Vincent Turregano and Jesse Darden acquitted themselves capably as, Fiorello and an Officer, respectively,.

Gianluca Falaschi’s Alice in Wonderland-inspired semi-period costumes (highlighted by billowing pantaloons and goofy top hats) added a layer of whimsy and color to the proceedings. There’s nothing particularly clever about them but they ably reflected the story’s sillier impulses.

Rosetta Cucchi’s stage direction ensures that neither sets nor attire get in the way of the opera’s action. A few too-busy moments aside (like Figaro, Almaviva, and Rosina distractingly passing around props just before the Act 2 finale), Cucchi’s production is lean and filled with laugh-out-loud moments. Indeed, for slapstick, this Barber has enough gags to fill out a Marx Brothers film – and the way the narrative ties up its loose ends is reminiscent of Seinfeld at its best.

In the pit, David Angus drew sharply rhythmic playing from the BLO orchestra. The Overture was light on its feet and the ensemble accompanied the singers with a good deal of energy and color, with the  woodwinds sounding particularly rosy opening night.

The Barber of Seville will be repeated 3 p.m. Sunday, 7:30 p.m. October 17 and 19, and 3 p.m. October 21. blo.org; 617-542-6772


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