Friday, March 27, 2009

Review: 'The Barber of Seville'

Virginia Opera, Peter Mark conducting
March 27, Landmark Theater, Richmond

Rossini’s "The Barber of Seville" is great fun for audiences. It’s also heavy duty for singers, who must negotiate arias laden with speedy coloratura, exude broadly comic personality and physicality and make it all look and sound romping and breezy. When they pull it off, it’s not just marvelous, it’s wondrous.

This production's cast pulls it off consistently. The principal singers get a huge assist from stage director Greg Ganakas, who peppers the show with sight gags and comic tableaux for choristers and supernumeraries. Even conductor Peter Mark gets into the act at the beginning.

For all the high jinks, this "Barber" is still a singers’ showcase. The five principals – Jason Detwiler (as Figaro), Manon Strauss Evrard (Rosina), John Zuckerman (Almaviva), Steven Condy (Bartolo) and Mark McCrory (Basilio) – sing with high energy, impressive flexibility and generally strong projection and secure pitch as they render Rossini’s florid vocal lines. Detwiler’s delivery of Figaro’s signature aria, "Largo al factotum," is the merry showstopper it’s meant to be; he’s just as impressive as a duet partner and a core voice in ensemble numbers.

Evrard, returning to the company after memorable performances in Offenbach’s "The Tales of Hoffmann" and Donizetti’s "Lucia di Lammermoor" last season, is an alluring Rosina, although she had to rein in a rather steely high register in the early going of the first of two Richmond performances. Her gift for physical comedy, hinted at in "Hoffmann," flowers in this production.

Zuckerman, in his first appearance with the Virginia Opera, displayed a fine-grained, youthfully light tenor voice. Condy and McCrory, also making their mainstage debuts with the company, proved to be able comic foils and projected their low-riding lines with gratifying sonority and without compromising on tempos – not easy for baritones and basses in Rossinian patter.

Eduardo Sicangco’s vintage sets and costumes serve nicely in this revival. The orchestra, drawn from the Richmond Symphony, played with refinement and sparkle, although percussion sounded curiously recessed.

The final performance of the Virginia Opera’s "Barber of Seville" begins at 2:30 p.m. March 29 at Richmond’s Landmark Theater. Tickets: $22.50-$92.50. Details: (804) 262-8003 (Ticketmaster);