San Francisco Opera Review: THE BARBER OF SEVILLE (San Francisco Opera)

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by Patricia Schaefer on November 19, 2013

in Theater-San Francisco / Bay Area

STROP THE PRESSES! A NEW RAZOR-SHARP BARBER COMES TO TOWN

Gioachino Rossini’s frolicsome 1816 comic opera The Barber of Seville is superbly realized with ebullience and verve in San Francisco Opera’s new production. The first night cast (one of two) was a sparkling SF Opera debut for both Mexican tenor Javier Camarena as Count Almaviva and zesty mezzo-soprano Isabel Leonard as Rosina. Leonard, an utterly lovely Kate Middleton look-alike, Scene from SF Opera's production of THE BARBER OF SEVILLE.offered a bright voice, superb comic timing and lent her Rosina strength and pluck. Camarena, fresh and clear-toned throughout the evening, confidently embodied his mercurial role, demonstrating an appealing comic sensibility as a nobleman forced to don many disguises. He winningly played the poor student, Lindoro, a drunken soldier and a Mini-me version of the towering music tutor Don Basilio (played by the stunningly monumental basso profundo Andrea Silvestrelli). Camarena was a standout, culminating his performance with an ornamental and enrapturing “Cessa di più resistere.” The strongly paired singers delivered altogether charming performances.

All nights at the opera should be so delightful. Far from being a stuffy rendition of a worn out art form, this fetching production breathed new life into an opera season that has been flagging.  With a snappy and inventive interpretation staged by Spanish director Emilio Sagi (and orchestra led by Giuseppe Finzi), this popular Scene from SF Opera's production of THE BARBER OF SEVILLE.opera buffa classic should appeal to opera virgins and die-hard aficionados alike.

I took along a friend who had never been to an opera before and she laughed and sighed with delicious relish at this visually inventive, sometimes Fellini-esque production with its carnival air. Fabulist moments included the Count being wheeled on stage in a little ecru carriage, and a bike-pedaled vendor truck magically popping onto the set. Especially beautiful was a rain of crystal beads across the stage, simulating a thundershower matching Rosina’s emotional devastation. In a gesture of directorial genius, the orchestra yielded, and for several long, rapturous moments, the rain was afforded the silence and the space to become music itself. The audience was spellbound.

Lucas Meachem (Figaro), Javier Camarena (Count Almaviva), Alessandro Corbelli (Doctor Bartolo), Andrea Silvestrelli (Don Basilio), Catherine Cook (Berta) and Isabel Leonard (Rosina) in SF Opera's production of THE BARBER OF SEVILLE.Such is the enchantment of this near-flawless production, supported by top-notch performances. Alessandro Corbelli, tackling the rapid recitative, was slight of build but powerfully shrewd as Doctor Bartolo.  Although Lucas Meachem’s voice was not his strong suit, he was physically appealing as the jack-of-all trades Figaro, who artfully arranged himself to be always at the right spot.  Catherine Cook played Rosina’s servant Berta with unforgettable gusto, and Ao Lit as Almaviva’s servant Fiorelli and A.J. Glueckert as Bartolo’s servant Ambrogio also turned in solid performances.

Lucas Meachem (Figaro) and the San Francisco Opera corps de ballet in SF Opera's production of THE BARBER OF SEVILLE.Spanish set designer Llorenc Corbella created stunning visuals and made the most of a stark, white minimalist set bathed by moon and sun (lighting by Gary Marder).  In one memorable scene, an animated bolt of white undulating cloth became the very embodiment of the “slander” which is referred to in Cesare Sterbini’s libretto.  Red blooms gradually introduced by Rosina and Berta led to the domination of color in the finale’s crescendo of exploding fireworks, during which the chorus held aloft bright balloons and towers of pink cotton candy as the lovers drove away in a flashy convertible.

Javier Camarena (Count Almaviva) and Isabel Leonard (Rosina) in SF Opera's production of THE BARBER OF SEVILLE.Costume designer Pepe Ojanguren did a nice job echoing this passage from black-and-white to a world of color. He clothed the opening chorus of Flamenco dancers and a soldiers’ squadron in variations of alabaster, and initially presents Rosina elegantly frozen in a snowy gown lifted from the steps of Westminster Abbey.  By curtain’s fall, he slips the ingénue into a loose, wildly patterned, color-clashing frock, striking a sizzling note in line with the opera’s celebration of passion and the triumph of the rebellious spirit of love.

Javier Camarena (Count Almaviva) and Ai Li (Fiorello) in SF Opera's production of THE BARBER OF SEVILLE.All was not perfect, and some small issues did crop up. The orchestra occasionally drowned out the singers; there seemed to be a tug-or-war going on, and the two were never totally in sync.  Nuria Castejón’s Flamenco-inspired choreography appeared uncoordinated, and while that could be seen as symbolic of the wild spirit animating the entire opera, it appeared chaotic and confusing. Finally, Christopher Bergen’s supertitles did not keep pace with the libretto, a pet peeve of mine. Overall, though, these issues did not detract in any significant way from the megawatt charisma of this production, performed with unstoppable panache. It would even be worth your while to see both casts.

photos © Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

The Barber of Seville
San Francisco Opera
War Memorial Opera House, 301 Van Ness Avenue
co-production with Lithuanian National Opera and Ballet Theatre
scheduled to end on December 1, 2013
for tickets, call (415) 864-3330 or visit http://www.sfopera.com/

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