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Let’s wait until the end of the run to look at an opera. No opening-night jitters, no second- night adjustments to keep the piece upright on its feet.. The final Sunday matinee performance of Il Barbiere di Seviglia was so relaxed that it surely replicated some of the improvisational flippancy of its first productions in 1816. The jokes were broad, the comedy quick and fresh, the singers vocally winking at the audience —but always at the beck of the music.
A hint of the lightheartedness came in the supertitles. Opening night reviews mentioned that baritone Roberto de Candia wasn't the customary lithe, lean Figaro we’ve come to expect. So a line inserted in the supertitles said, “I see you’ve put on weight" for Count Almaviva’s reunion with Figaro.
Not to worry. His girth notwithstanding, De Candia embodied the bouncy, busy instigator of the original Beaumarchais play, shaving the pompous Dr. Bartolo with big sweeps of the razor, costuming the infatuated Count Almaviva, and functioning alternately as conspirator, comrade, servant and opportunist. His big first-act entrance combined a business executive’s command of detail with self-congratulation. His singing fit the fast-moving ensembles, resounded in comic moments and acted as a propellant everywhere. De Candia, soprano Laura Polverelli (as Rosina) and tenor Antonino Siragusa (Almaviva) — all making local debuts — guaranteed glassily articulate delivery of the text. Even in the rattling recitatives, they were singing real syllables that the audience could understand.
Before them, Corrado Rovaris led the orchestra in finely graded, spirited playing that found the colors of the score in quiet sections, the comedy in the explosive moments. The Overture emerged with welcome finesse, its big crescendo growing like the joke of the opera itself, its inner lines mirroring the weave of intrigue onstage.
Robert Driver’s direction permitted all this to transpire naturally. When the Houston Grand Opera staged The Barber as set in the 1960s, the Beatles serenaded under Rosina’s window and the audience struggled to grasp the social connections and parallels. Here, the piece was set in its post-Napoleonic era, acted in its conciseness and importance as the eventual preface to Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro.
Driver added some neat touches —the big band hired by Almaviva to serenade Rosina, the police squad singing in formations that bent and swayed, the liberation of the oppressed servant girl Berta, the thunderstorm, and Rosina sinking suddenly on the sofa when she realizes her mysterious suitor is in her house. It may have been Driver’s gloss on a long history of devices, but everything worked to energize the stage.
Incidentally, some doctoral student ought to analyze the role of hair in this opera. Bartolo loses his wig; Berta is freed when her hair is loosened; Basilio’s locks speak of lunacy and greed.
The singers carried the appropriately-weighted voices into the comedy. Siragusa’s clear lyric floated easily through the intricacies, sounding daring and youthful rather than just technical. Polverelli was an ideal foil, bright voiced, comfortable in the parody of the lesson scene, brilliant when needed, personal and expressive with Siragusa.
Bass Kevin Glavin as Dr. Bartolo matched them with his expansive portrayal and substantial voice. With bass Tigran Martirrosian (Basilio), mezzo Carolyn Betty (Berta), James Kee and Alexander Tall jauntily involved, the opera spun toward its dreamy finish. All it takes is supple comedy, superb musical portrayals, an eager orchestra— and Rossini lives.
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