Commedia in two acts in Italian
Music by Gioachino Rossini
Libretto by Cesare Sterbini after the play
of the same name by Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais
Conductor: Michele Mariotti
Director: Rob Ashford
At the Lyric Opera of Chicago
Although Gioachino Rossini (1792-1868) wrote 38 operas – astonishing considering his early retirement at the age of 38 – The Barber of Seville is the only complete opera among the two works upon which his reputation nearly completely rests today, the other being, of course, the ubiquitous overture to the otherwise neglected William Tell. As Barber‘s preeminence among his output seems to have been established by a nearly unanimous consensus since its premier, more or less agreed to by Rossini himself, casual opera-goers who are given the chance to get regularly re-acquainted in the theater with this alone among the composer’s vast output may safely assume that it is that most worthy of such attention. And of course it is a delightfully sparkling, lyrical, and mischievous work, even if the music may not quite erase memories of Mozart, whom it often evokes and to which it ultimately yields the last degree of poignancy and memorability – it is hard not to enjoy this lovely opera. In addition to his melodic prowess and wit, Rossini demonstrates here a wonderful feel for orchestration. The story is typical opera buffa fare with a certain Count Almaviva masquerading as (among other things) a poor student in order to win the hand of the lovely Rosina, whose miserly protector, the scheming Dr. Bartolo, has his eyes on her dowry – and all this with the help of local barber and nearly equally scheming factotum Figaro.
Lyric’s current production is mostly very satisfying. My chief reservation regarding the singers concerned Alek Shrader as the Count; while one could hardly fault his tone-production or characterization, he frequently failed to hit pitches directly, tending to slide into them in a way most unsuited to bel canto style. There was little to complain of in the rest of the cast, which included such distinguished names as Nathan Gunn (Figaro) and Alessandro Corbelli (Dr. Bartolo).
However, I feel especially compelled to praise Tracy Cantin as the maid Berta: so great was her finesse and projection that when I first looked closely at the program after the performance, I was stunned to read that she is still only in the Lyric’s training program (the Ryan Opera Center) – certainly a name to watch from now on! Otherwise, Isabel Leonard sang Rosina most beautifully, and Kyle Ketelsen made a suitably sleazy Don Basilio. The orchestra played with its usual musicality and warmth for the young Italian conductor Michele Mariotti; while the playing he elicited was generally sensitive and often quite lively, with some especially magical moments in the second act, greater brilliance from the strings would often have been welcome. Yet on the whole, the combined efforts of Rossini and the Lyric provide much to enjoy in this evening of lilting bel canto, hijinks, and all-around high spirits.
For more info checkout The Barber of Seville page at theatreinchicago.com running time is 3 hours, 10 minutes with intermission, tickets $34 – $244