FGO opens 75th season with entertaining “Barber of Seville”

By Lawrence Budmen

Megan Marino and David Pershall in Florida Grand Opera's production of Rossini's "Barber of Seville." Photo: Brittany Mazzurco Muscato

Megan Marino and David Pershall in Florida Grand Opera’s production of Rossini’s “Barber of Seville.” Photo: Brittany Mazzurco Muscato

On a rainy, windy Miami night, Florida Grand Opera provided an antidote to the lousy weather, opening its 75th anniversary season with an entertaining production of Rossini’s indestructible opera buffa The Barber of Seville at the Arsht Center.

The performance was preceded by the playing of “La Marseillaise” in tribute to the people of France and the victims of the previous day’s tragic events.

Dennis Garnhum’s production was not exactly the opera Rossini conceived, much less the play of Pierre Beaumarchais on which it is based. The director has set the work in 1940’s Seville at Bartolo Studios, where Dr. Bartolo is the studio boss and the young and vivacious Rosina is his employee rather than his ward. He has made her a star and imprisoned her in his apartment above the sound stage. The barber and jack of all trades Figaro works part time at the studio, shaving and cutting the hair of actors and crew.

At times, particularly in the second act, the production veers into over-busy sitcom antics but Allan Stichbury’s film set is an eye-filling backdrop. If not exactly the epitome of classic comic opera or French farce, Garnhum’s modernist reboot makes a good show. But why do directors feel they must choreograph overtures? Garnhum’s pantomime of life on a movie set only detracts from the wit and instrumental subtleties of Rossini’s music.

Musically this may not be a Barber for the ages but there is some solid singing and stylish conducting by Ramon Tebar.

Megan Marino is a spitfire of a Rosina, a strong -willed actress who stands up to her scheming boss, his guards and co-conspirators. Attired in glamorous gowns by Howard Tsvi Kaplan, she plays a star besieged by autograph seekers. With an ample mezzo voice that easily fills the house, she fires off gleaming coloratura, adding some of her own ornaments along the way. Marino is a natural comedienne, bringing split-second timing to her scenes with Bartolo, and she proved particularly delightful in the concluding ensemble of Act I, her mock puppetry captured in strobe lighting.

Andrew Owens, the evening’s Count Almaviva, was announced as being ill but he bravely soldiered on, giving a more-than-creditable performance. He cut a handsome figure as the amorous count, and displayed an appealing lyric tenor in “Ecco ridente,” although he seemed to tire in the second act.

David Pershall brought movie-star charisma and lots of personality to Figaro. His baritone is on the light side but he navigated the twists and turns of “Largo al factotum” ably. Pershall proved strong in the ensembles but was less effective in his duets with Rosina and Almaviva.

As Bartolo, Kevin Short was often hilarious but he was not a stock buffoon. His stentorian declamation, low bass notes and ease in rapid fire patter was particularly effective in Bartolo’s aria, which he imbued with mean vehemence.

Alex Soare was a slimy Don Basilio but his vibrato-heavy voice lacked the deep low notes for “La Calunnia.” Eliza Bonet seemed a soubrette in the making, singing Berta’s aria with winning charm. Nicholas Ward’s Fiorelo and Zachary Elmassian’s Officer were standouts in cameo roles.

Tebar’s conducting was enlivening, always keeping the ensemble lines clean and precise while remaining unobtrusive. The overture was well played,  the orchestra sounding bright and engaged.

Note: FGO announced Sunday morning that Javier Abreu will sing the role of Almaviva at today’s matinee, replacing the ailing Andrew Owens.

Florida Grand Opera repeats The Barber of Seville with the same cast 8 p.m. Thursday and Saturday at the Arsht Center in Miami.  Hilary Ginther, Brian James Myer and Kevin Glavin sing in performances 2 p.m. Sunday and 8 p.m. Friday at the Arsht Center and 8 p.m. December 3 and 5 at the Broward Center in Ft. Lauderdale. 800-741-1010; fgo.org.


Posted in Performances

3 Responses to “FGO opens 75th season with entertaining “Barber of Seville””

  1. Posted Nov 15, 2015 at 6:16 pm by marc lippman

    i think this review is basically spot on in every respect. however, there were cuts from the actual score… i wonder why that was done. for example the finale was cut short with only a single solo.

  2. Posted Nov 16, 2015 at 9:43 am by Terry Schlender

    This performance reminded us of the 1999 movie “Being John Malkovich,” and we woke up in the middle of the New Jersey Turnpike. Thank goodness for the great music of Rossini, but please, Basilio as a photographer? It didn’t flow to the Count then filling in as his associate… such a stretch. And, what was with the police uniforms.

    If your going to move it up hundreds of years, do it all the way. And, sorry, I don’t like hearing one of the best mezzo arias of all time started out with a Rosina on her back with her head hanging over the edge! It was not a fresh production, but a confusing one with lots of junk going on, which really distracted.

    I heard many patrons commenting about it’s similarity to Così fan tutte in a pool hall from last season and the disguises with turbans, etc. Perhaps a reason for all the empty seats… Hope they do not intend to hack away at Norma, or they may lose even more patrons.

    One last comment… rainy night and considering what had just happened in Paris, singing of the “La Marseillaise” was nice, but I would have preferred more security… it was non-existent… Perhaps they were protecting the patrons across the road at the concert hall instead.

  3. Posted Nov 18, 2015 at 11:17 pm by S. Courey

    If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Why not leave well enough alone and stop trying to fix an already perfect opera!! The fact that there were so many empty seats speaks for itself. I received so many solicitations from the FGO to purchase tickets – an obvious desperate attempt to fill the seats. If you have something good to offer you don’t have to resort to that. I hope the FGO has learned a valuable lesson. People apparently don’t like change!

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Sun Nov 15, 2015
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