Florida Grand Opera’s new “Barber of Seville” is a classic comic delight

By Lawrence Budmen

Stephanie Doche as Rosina and Michele Angelini as Count Almaviva star in Florida Grand Opera’s new production of “The Barber of Seville.” Photo: Daniel Azoulay/Courtesy of FGO

The most famous of Goachino Rossini’s comic operas, The Barber of Seville opened on Saturday night at Miami’s Arsht Center in a new Florida Grand Opera production that soars musically and stays true to the composer’s vision. FGO’s fun-filled revival delights and entertains without resorting to the vulgarized slapstick and pandering updates of story and era that have undermined too many opera buffa productions of late.

Based on the work of playwright Pierre Beaumarchais, the opera follows a smitten Count Almaviva as he woos the adorable Rosina over the objections of her grouchy, grasping guardian, Doctor Bartolo. The would-be young lovers are aided in their efforts to connect by Figaro, the barber and jack of all trades, in a romantic caper that Rossini endowed with some of the most lively and delightful music ever penned for the lyric stage.

The couple are front and center in Matt Cooksey’s staging, and Michele Angelini as Almaviva and Stephanie Doche as Rosina are clearly the stars of this show. Angelini, for good reason, is a mainstay in bel canto roles at prestigious European venues such as the Bavarian State Opera and the Glyndebourne Festival. With his creamy tenor and tremendous range, he produces seemingly effortless coloratura, with runs and top notes free and cleanly articulated. His phrasing on Saturday was also elegant right where it needed to be, particularly in “Ecco ridente” and in the first act serenade to Rosina.

A gifted comic thespian, Angelini carried off his disguises as a drunken soldier and a music teacher with hilarious aplomb. His rapport with Doche was total, the pair playing off each other with split-second comedic timing and blending mellifluously in duets and ensembles. The rarely heard final tenor aria, which utilizes the same music as Angelini’s coloratura showpiece in La Cenerentola (Rossini’s version of the Cinderella story), was reinstated for a demonstration of Angelini’s rapid-fire agility and flexible top range.

Doche, a former FGO Studio artist, was an aptly coquettish Rosina. Her dusky mezzo timbre is luxuriant but she can spin patter at top speed and her high register has a strong foundation. “Una voce poco fa” and the music lesson scene were showstoppers, sung with plush tone and dexterity. Both Doche and Angelini ornamented their arias in a tasteful manner, the additional trills and melodic variants adding an extra dose of fireworks. With her impressive singing and theatrical flair, Doche appears destined for a major operatic career.

As the title character, Young-Kwang Yoo brought an attractive light baritone and the magnetism of a born entertainer to the role of the matchmaking enabler. He could sing at top speed with the facility of a Gilbert and Sullivan veteran — G&S frequently parodied Rossini in their comic operettas — and in the numerous trios with Angelini and Doche, he was every inch their equal in flexibility and élan.

Bass-baritone Kristopher Irmiter was a suitably crotchety Bartolo, his sternness toward his young charge Rosina turning to bewilderment as he finds himself outmaneuvered. It was a confident and firmly voiced comic performance that also underlined how ably this seasoned character actor has transitioned in his role choices. Memorable as the villainous Scarpia in an FGO Tosca and as the pious monk Athanael in Massenet’s Thais, Irmiter is now making his mark in basso-buffo repertoire.

Florida resident Susan Neves was a scene stealer as Berta, Bartolo’s housekeeper. Once a leading Verdi soprano at the Met and European houses, Neves still commands the stage and her high register rings out with power, while her soft singing remains beautiful. Berta’s aria, which usually just passes by in performance, was a highlight of the evening in Neves’ deft portrayal.

As Rosina’s music teacher and Bartolo’s henchman, Don Basilio, former FGO Studio artist Rafael Porto deployed a warm, enveloping bass for “La Calunnia,” his scheming soliloquy. Matthew Cossack had the baritonal solidity required for his two roles: Count Almaviva’s servant Fiorello, and gobsmacked police officer. In a silent cameo as Bartolo’s aging servant Ambrogio, opera director and administrator Ian Campbell was droll and funny.

Anthony Barrese conducted a classically attuned performance with lean orchestral textures and careful attention to Rossini’s dynamic markings. He skillfully balanced the voices in the Act I finale, keeping the music light and sparkling. He restored all three verses of the finale, allowing Yoo, Doche and Angelini to take a turn at spinning roulades, making the conclusion all the more invigorating. As Almaviva’s band of musicians and as a collection of veritable Keystone Cops constables, the male chorus sang with spirit and resonance under the vocal direction of Jared Peroune.

With lovely period sets by David Gano (from New Orleans Opera), Howard Tsvi Kaplan’s picturesque array of costumes and Barry Steele’s carefully calibrated lighting, Cooksey’s staging was endlessly eye catching and inventive without veering into exaggeration. In the usually inert Act II storm scene, he had Bartolo, Rosina, Berta and Ambrogio fighting the fierce wind that blew open the door to charming and witty effect. If your spirits need a lift — and even if they don’t — go see this Barber, comic opera at its best.

Florida Grand Opera repeats The Barber of Seville 2 p.m. Sunday and 8 p.m. Tuesday at the Arsht Center in Miami and 7:30 p.m. May 18 and 20 at the Broward Center in Fort Lauderdale. fgo.org

Posted in Performances

One Response to “Florida Grand Opera’s new “Barber of Seville” is a classic comic delight”

  1. Posted Apr 30, 2023 at 2:17 pm by Arnold Rawls

    I was at the final dress rehearsal. This is a great and very accurate review. This was a terrific show.

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Sun Apr 30, 2023
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