There are some old favorites, such asÂ ToscaÂ in which the music, characters, and/or the plot are so complex that a skilled director can bring a new insight to the most jaded opera lover. Rossini’sÂ The Barber of SevilleÂ is not one of these. Â
Rather, its music is so basic, its characters so stock, and its plot so simple that a director can put almost anything on stage without creating any blatant inconsistencies.
Emilio SagiÂ and his design team created outstanding visual effects in the staging.
For example, early in Act I Figaro (Lucas Meachem) is telling Count Almaviva (Javier Camarena) how he can find his shop. A large scale city map suddenly appears, and as he is giving directions in rapid Italian, he is also tracing out the route with his finger.
I had seenÂ Lucas MeachemÂ in San Francisco 2 years ago when he sang the title role inÂ Don Giovanni. He has an imposing build and a strong baritone voice. Figaro often tends to dominate the action whenever he is on stage —Â MeachemÂ played him more as a team player, which enhanced the overall unity of the production.
Javier CamarenaÂ (Count Almaviva) had a magnificent tenor voice and played all of disguises well. Throughout most of the opera he is disguised (except to the audience and to Figaro who goes along with the deception) as a penniless student Lindoro.
In his efforts to see his beloved Rosina under the very eyes of her guardian Dr. Bartolo, Almaviva disguises himself as a drunken soldier in Act I, and as a music teacher Don Alonso in Act II.
Rosina was sung byÂ Isobel LeonardÂ as herÂ SFOperaÂ debut. However she has already been seen in major opera houses all over Europe and the United States, including the lead role of Miranda inÂ Thomas Adès’Â The TempestÂ at theÂ MetÂ last year. I’m glad she finally came to San Francisco and that I was there to witness it. In addition to being a joy to listen to, she is a delight to look at, whether live from Row R or close up in a picture. She andÂ CamarenaÂ were well-matched in their duets.
Completing the quartet of stars in the four major roles isÂ Alessandro CorbelliÂ as Rosina’s guardian, Dr. Bartolo. Like the other three, he has performed in Europe and the USA, including theÂ Met. This is his second appearance here — he debuted as Dr. Dulcamara inÂ L’Elisir d’AmoreÂ 5 years ago. His resonant bass-baritone voice is matched by his comic acting ability. A short man, he struts fussily about the stage producing smiles and chuckles in the audience, rather than belly laughs. At one point I thought he needed only a cocked hat to be a parody of Napoleon.
I should mention thatÂ SFOperaÂ has double-cast the opera’s four principal roles in alternating performances — aside from the above picture, this review is concerned solely with the opening-night cast in both words and pictures.
The other six members of the cast are scheduled to appear in all of the performances. The principal supporting roles of the music teacher Don Basilio (Andrea Silvestrelli) and the servant Berta (Catherine Cook) come with national and international reputations, including performances at theÂ Met. In particular, SilvestrelliÂ was seen and heard as Fasolt in the 2011 SFOpera Ring Cycle
Catherine CookÂ is no stranger toÂ SFOperaÂ audiences, having appeared in more than forty roles since her debut 22 years ago. She is a graduate of theÂ Merola Opera ProgramÂ and a formerÂ Adler Fellow. Earlier this fall she took over the title role fromÂ Patricia RacetteÂ for the last few performances ofÂ Dolores Claiborne.
Under the direction ofÂ Emilio Sagi, she has created a different and more sympathetic character for the servant Berta. In other productions, the servant is portrayed as a buffoon and/or a hag — as a flunky who stupidly carries out her master’s orders. Cook plays her as an intelligent employee with a lively interest in the affairs of the family — and someone who sympathizes with Rosina in her rebellion. Often, when not actively present in the scene, she can be seen perched comfortably on an upstairs window seat, quietly observing the goings-on.
Near the end of Act II Berta has her own little aria in which she gives her opinion that love is a universal evil but “I also feel it.” Nothing in the libretto indicates the identity of the recipient of her amorous feelings, but I infer the obvious — Berta believes that “she”, rather than the teen-age Rosina, would be a suitable match for her rich old employer. Usually she is alone on stage, sings her aria, and exits as the storm-music begins — a ridiculous, pathetic old woman. However, in this production the male servantÂ Ambrogio (A. J. Glueckert), is silently wooing her. She ignores him while singing, but at the end of her song she turns to the audience with a little smile and a wry shrug of her shoulders, as if to say, “What the hell, Bartolo is a pipe-dream, but this guy is here and now.” — and trips off stage in Ambrogio’s arms.
And there you have it. Except, of course, for the usual happy grand finale – complete with fireworks. Don Bartolo realizes that he has been the fool here and blesses Rosina and the Count, and
the happy couple rides off into the sunset in their bright red 1958 Jaguar XK-SS convertible.
Lots of performances left in November. Come see for yourself.
San Francisco Opera
301 Van Ness Avenue
San Francisco, CA 94102
Except as noted, all photos byÂ Cory Weaver, San Francisco Opera;
Video clips courtesy San Francisco Opera
Cropping and arrangements by Philip Hodge
|DATES:||NOV 13, 16, 19, 22, 26, DEC 1||NOV 14, 17, 20, 23, 29|
|FIGARO||LUCAS MEACHEM||AUDUN IVERSEN *|
|ROSINA||ISABEL LEONARD *||DANIELA MACK|
|COUNT ALMAVIVA||JAVIER CAMARENA *||ALEK SHRADER|
|DOCTOR BARTOLO||ALESSANDRO CORBELLI||MAURIZIO MURARO *|
|DON BASILIO||ANDREA SILVESTRELLI|
|AN OFFICER||HADLEIGH ADAMS|
|SET DESIGNER||LLORENé‡Â CORBELLA|
|COSTUME DESIGNER||PEPA OJANGUREN|
|LIGHTING DESIGNER||GARY MARDER *|
|CHORUS DIRECTOR||IAN ROBERTSON|
|CHOREOGRAPHER||NURIA CASTEJé“N *|
* SAN FRANCISCO OPERA DEBUT
This review by Philip G Hodge appeared in sanfranciscosplash.com on November 17, 2013.