Perhaps you were first introduced to Figaro by Bugs Bunny, Mrs. Doubtfire, or Seinfeld? The iconic opening aria, “Largo al Factotum (Make way for the Jack-of-all-trades),” sung by Lyric’s Figaro, Nathan Gunn, could be recognized by many who have never set foot in any opera house—it’s the quintessential anthem for frantic comic madness with a happy ending.
Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia, one of the greatest comic operas of all time, communicates such comic frenzy and creates such high spirited expectations, the audience is ready for a good time. And Lyric’s all new, daring production delivers.
In addition to its daunting vocal range, Rossini throws in a generous helping of tongue twisters, ridiculous characters, surprising plot twists and hilarious wigging: Dr. Bartolo, the guardian and would-be suitor wears a “twin peaks” wig (fashioned by Figaro? He IS the barber!).
Think it’s crazy enough already? Rossini didn’t. It was necessary for the beautiful Rosina to not know the true identity of her ardent, devoted, inventive suitor, Count Almaviva. Therefore, before the opera is ended and conquest is at hand, the Count assumes at least three separate identities. I say “at least” because it’s easy to lose count of the Count(s)!
This poses a huge problem for the nasty, twin-peaked Bartolo but not for our hero, Figaro who orchestrates the mayhem and--yes, you guessed it!-- wins Rosina’s hand for the sincere and ardent lover, Count Almaviva.
The set is absolutely ingenious for hiding, spying, chase scenes, farcical entrances and exits (and one foiled exit: the elopement ladder disappears!), the de rigueur potted plants and graceful archways.
Who’s behind the creative energy lavished on this sweet-natured story “coiffed” for us by Figaro? A daring group of newcomers:
Because Director, Tony- and Olivier Award-winning Rob Ashford comes from a dance background, movement morphs from fluid and lively to frantic and desperate with ease but not predictability.
We are treated to the graceful beauty of Scott Pask’s set which captures the look and feel of 18th century Italian life AND rotates to take the action from day to night and back again! What a powerful metaphor for an opera about the changing social attitudes of the time.
The music and musicianship of the performers is, of course, the crowning achievement of the production. What voices! What expression! How beautifully the instruments of the orchestra, under the direction of another newcomer, Michele Mariotti, complement and enhance the voices of the performers!
Moreover, Catherine Zuber’s costumes completed the total look: the production has a consistent 18th century look and feel.
How different Nathan Gunn was from his character in Show Boat in the 2011-12 season. His powerful baritone is perfect for his Figaro, kind and so resourceful. He doesn’t miss a beat as the Largo al factotum.
Alek Schrader’s Count and Isabel Leonard’s Rosina are perfectly matched lovers—vocally, intellectually and physically.
But my favorite is one of my first operatic loves, Alessandro Corbelli (only a consummate comedian would wear that preposterous wig!) who I enjoyed so much in the 2009-10 season’s L’elisir d’amore as Dr. Dulcamara
No wonder so many artists have commandeered Largo al Factotum—it's funny without being unkind and finally the Count (whichever one he really is!) gets the girl!
Photos: Dan Rest and Robert Kusel