Baritone Martinez lights up Miami Lyric Opera’s “Barber of Seville””

By David Fleshler

As Miami Lyric Opera’s production of Rossini’s Barber of Seville unfolded Saturday night, it appeared initially that another merely adequate, low-voltage performance of this classic would fill the evening.

But that was before the young Cuban-born baritone Nelson Martinez took the stage as Figaro and sang the famous Largo al factotum, in which the barber brags about all the services he provides the city. This is one of those arias that can suffer from overfamiliarity, yet Martinez boomed it out with such vigor and style, snapping out the patter section with clicking precision, that it seemed fresh and alive.

Martinez, a Miami Lyric favorite who has always distinguished himself in the company’s productions, played the role with dignity, style and none of the sight gags with which so many performers cheapen it. There was nothing stiff or humorless about his performance, but he understood that the humor emerged from the music and situation, as when Figaro describes the contents of his barbershop in the tone of Napoleon boasting of his conquests.

Rossini’s comic opera, which is approaching the 200th anniversary of its premiere in Rome, tells the story of the barber and town fixer, who finds a way to steer two lovers together under the noses of the people trying to thwart them. If some of the comedy is hopelessly antique, a lot of it holds up surprisingly well thanks to the ageless humor of Rossini’s music.

The orchestra, which had a rough outing recently in Puccini’s Madama Butterfly, played with fizzing commitment under the baton of conductor Beverly Coulter. She kept Rossini’s music tripping along, providing much of the energy of the performance. Except for Martinez, the rest of the singers could have used some of the same crisp rhythmic precision, particularly in the ensemble sections.

But there were no real weak links in the cast. As the love-sick Count Almaviva, the tenor David Pereira brought a warm, light tone to his serenade of Rosina, although there was a lack of a smooth bel canto legato. Pereira was most effective with the comic side of the role, as when he appeared disguised as a music teacher to mercilessly irritate Dr. Bartolo.

The mezzo-soprano Lissette Jimenez gave a mixed performance as Rosina with a somewhat heavier-sounding voice than is typical for this role. She brought an opulent tone to Una voce poco fa, and if she didn’t hit every note dead on, she did a creditable job with the rapid-fire coloratura difficulties.

As the music teacher Don Basilio, Carlos Conde tended to overplay the slapstick, while costumed in a ridiculous outfit that featured barber-pole striped socks that he kept displaying, although the audience seemed to enjoy his act. His La calunnia è un venticello, in which he explains to Dr. Bartolo how to blacken the name of his rival, was full of humor and basso menace.

Stefano de Peppo aptly played Dr. Bartolo as if he had a broom-stick attached to his spine—stiff, humorless and destined to be the butt of jokes. Vocally he was adequate, holding up his end in the ensemble sections. The soprano Daisy Su did a fine job as the maid Berta, with a stylish performance of her aria lamenting the behavior of those around her.

The cost-effective sets were well-designed with a crowded street scene of Seville and a nicely appointed room in Dr. Bartolo’s house, complete with harpsichord, wing chair and other opulent touches.

Miami Lyric Opera’s production of Rossini’s Barber of Seville repeats 4 p.m. Sunday at the Olympia Theater at the Gusman Center for the Performing Arts in Miami., 305-372 0925

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Sun Aug 19, 2012
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