Several years ago there was a joke that the definition of an intellectual was a person who could listen to Gioachino Rossini's William Tell Overture and not think of The Lone Ranger T.V. show (which played it every week as its theme song). As a child fan of that show, whenever I heard the sparking glib dramatic sounds of that tune, my heart would pump in excitement and anticipation of the handsome masked man, his beautiful while stallion, and his lovely and faithful Native American companion. This was all brought back to me Wednesday night at the L.A. Opera when listening to the overture of The Barber of Seville under the direction of the young Italian conductor, Michele Mariotti. Once again, Rossini's fast paced music made my heart speed as I embarked on the fun and exciting music and characters I was about to experience.
Gioachino Rossini was a genius. Writing in the early 1800's, he picked up on a play of Pierre Augustin Beaumarchais who worked chiefly in Paris from the 1770s to the 1790s and whose work reflects the revolutionary era he lived in. He brought to life a lowly barber as a main character, and one who in many ways behaves as a grand puppet master pulling the strings of other more noble and educated players on stage. This makes for predicament upon predicament of hilarity matched only by the rousing, passionate, extremes of masterful bel canto music to enhance every emotion as well as every prat fall, thrilling audiences every minute.
Run, don't walk,to this uplifting wonderful show now playing with trunkloads of talent and wonder. Emilio Sagi directed the original production which has picked up on so many nuances of humor to amuse even the stuffed shirts among us. Director Javier Ulacia has made sure our fancy is tickled in the here and now. At times broad and at times surreal, there are many memorable moments which stick in the mind. When not impressing you with the beauty of the ensemble, the opera will keep you reveling in silliness.
First of all, Nathan Gunn, the hunky, irresistible baritone is a perfect fit for Figaro, barber, and master planner of all the fun. He is full of himself as he takes credit for madness and success. His white and later red tuxedoed body makes him a dashing and romantic figure himself and his very presence and power actually overshadows the romantic lead in many ways.
Juan Diego Florez as Count Almaviva is seriously in love from his first note, but as the story progresses, he gets into the fray, taking on disguises and jumping on tables. He seems to have picked up his humor and daring from Figaro. His voice, beautifully dulcet and subtle, is gorgeous, although it doesn't quite boom the way the other comic characters do. In fact, when his beloved Rosina, soprano Joyce DiDonato sings off stage, her voice rather overpowers his when he is on stage. Her voice is powerful and cheery and clear throughout.
To me, the nasty Doctor Bartolo as played by bass baritone Bruno Pratico uplifts the comedy values of the show the most. From his first time out of the house with his little frou frou dog (who nearly steals the scene and is uncredited) to his frantic greedy efforts to keep Rosina for himself, he is hilarious. In conflict with the Count, he handily bumps him away with is massive belly. He, as well as Figaro, awe us with their tongue twisting speed dialogue singing. In one of the most fun scenes there are 18 policemen on stage and everyone is confounded by the lightening quick turn of events. Bartolo leads them in some rousing arias about his "baffled brain" and "there seems to be a pounding in my head" and they all seem to have "gone mad." Before our eyes all the characters seem like they are in an asylum and they are all playing mindlessly with paper birds.
Andrea Silvestrelli as Don Basilio also excels at the speed singing and to great comic effect. Silvestrelli, a huge framed man with a massive bass voice does a side splitting bit standing on a table singing about the whispers of gossip growing to ruin a reputation, while being illustrated by a billowing sheet below him.
Kerri Marcinko as Berta the blasé maid with cigarette hanging from her mouth, also deserves mention as her character adds to the funny whenever she is onstage. The chorus and dancers are their usual brilliant selves.
Sets and costumes are elegantly black and white. Almost too elegant for the bawdy nature of the story. But when love blooms, finally, so does the stage in beautiful color. Besides Figaro's knockout red tuxedo, Count Almaviva appears in pink from head to toe, including some killer pink boots. (Would love to get my hands on those!) Happiness is portrayed by colorful dancing and a hot air balloon.
Georja Umano is an actress, comedienne, and animal advocate.
Photos: Robert Millard
Showtimes & Dates
Sunday November 29, 2009 2:00 p.m.
Wednesday December 2, 2009 7:30 p.m.
Saturday December 5, 2009 7:30 p.m.
Sunday December 6, 2009 2:00 p.m.
Wednesday December 9, 2009 7:30 p.m.
Saturday December 12, 2009 12:00 p.m.
Sunday December 13, 2009 2:00 p.m.
Wednesday December 16, 2009 7:30 p.m.
Saturday December 19, 2009 1:00 p.m.
Saturday December 19, 2009 8:00 p.m.
FIGARO Nathan Gunn
FIGARO(Dec. 5, 12, 19m) Lucas Meachem
COUNT ALMAVIVA J Juan Diego FlÛrez
COUNT ALMAVIVA (Dec. 5, 12, 19m) Dmitry Korchak
ROSINA Joyce DiDonato
ROSINA(Dec. 5, 12, 19m) Sarah Coburn
DOCTOR BARTOLO Bruno PraticÚ
DOCTOR BARTOLO(Dec. 5, 12, 19m) Philip Cokorinos
DON BASILIO Andrea Silvestrelli
DON BASILIO(Dec. 5, 12, 19m) Ryan McKinny
BERTA Kerri Marcinko
BERTA(Dec. 5, 12, 19m) Ronnita Miller
FIORELLO JosÈ Ad·n PÈrez
FIORELLO(Dec. 5, 12, 19m) Daniel Armstrong
CONDUCTOR Michele Mariotti
PRODUCTION Emilio Sagi
DIRECTOR Javier Ulacia
SCENERY DESIGNER LlorenÁ Corbella
* LA Opera debut.
Los Angeles Opera
135 N. Grand Ave.
Los Angeles, CA
(213) 687-3490 fax