Fort Worth Opera
Conductor – Joe Illick
Director – David Gately
Scenic Designer – John Stoddart
Lighting Designer – Chad R. Jung
Makeup and Wig Designer – Steven Bryant
Assistant Director – Joshua Miller
Stage Manager – Samantha Greene
Repetiteur – Matthew Stephens
English Supertitle – Hannah Guinn
Spanish Supertitle – Gabriela Lomónaco
Fiorello/Officer – Trevor Martin
Count Almaviva – Andrew Stenson
Figaro – Joo Won Kang
Rosina – Megan Marino
Dr. Bartolo – Kyle Albertson
Berta – Maren Weinberger
Don Basilio – Tyler Simpson
Ambrogio – Doug Jackson
Reviewed Performance 4/30/2016
Reviewed by Laurie Lynn Lindemeier, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
Although the first performance in Rome of Rossini’s The Barber of Seville was considered a celebrated fiasco, that could hardly be said of its first showing during the Fort Worth Opera Festival. The audience in the sold-out Bass Hall adored this boisterous opera buffa from the moment the strings spritely danced the running lines in the overture to the close of the final curtain.
Figaro the barber was masterfully sung by baritone Joo Won Kang. At the opening a band of musicians stood frozen in place. When the barber placed a violin in one minstrel’s hand and a wine bottle in another, and then snapped his fingers to bring it into action, I knew we were in for a treat. Director David Gately has become legendary for his use of this start-and-stop dramatic tool. This special effect certainly served this comedy well. Many audience members seemed hardly able to have a moment to catch their breaths between bouts of laughter. The ushers should have handed out ice packs as we departed the hall for all the aching split sides.
Director Gately mentioned that he doesn’t mind that many other opera productions have borrowed from his idea for the freeze-then-snap-start stage direction. He, after all, also did some borrowing himself by creating a purposeful allusion during a slow motion scene. Gately directed Tyler Simpson as Don Basilio to slowly bend backwards and flail his arms while wearing a long black cloak that suspiciously mimicked a Matrix-like trench coat. This cloak also served the light-fingered Basilio well as he miraculously slipped goblets, silver plates and everything else he could get his hands on into his bottomless pockets. The crafty music teacher managed to go uncaught despite jingling about with his bounty.
Megan Marino as the manipulative coquettish Rosina certainly did a brilliant job of not being caught by her guardian’s lustful advances. Bass Kyle Albertson sang the role of the guardian Dr. Bartolo with potent rich tone and dirty-old-man eagerness.
General director Darren Woods mentioned to me that Marino wrote her own cadenzas—no small feat! This mezzo soprano also fluently sang the virtuosic passages of Rosina’s “Una voce poco fa” like it was as smooth as buttercream icing in her mouth. To most mezzos this aria is more like eating a whole wedding cake in one sitting. The playbill mentioned that coloratura sopranos have often grabbed the role of Rosina, but I’m glad to have heard a skillful mezzo conquer this challenging role.
Rossini’s difficult operas were not immediately popular in his day but eventually became more well-known and performed when singers finally mastered techniques that allowed them to climb the mountains of notes that Rossini packed into his scores. Strangely, the world of today also has great familiarity with The Barber due to a certain buggy bunny and Figaro’s famous self-introducing phrase, “Figaro, Figaro here, Figaro there.”
In other productions I’ve seen and heard sluggish patter songs that were not cleanly sung or followed well by the orchestra—like that bad nightmare when you can’t move your feet fast enough to escape. However, this was not an issue for the FWO orchestra that was precisely conducted by Joe Illick to follow and enhance the lightning-fast lyrics. The singers were also up to the task of lassoing all those running notes and tongue-twisting words. Not only did Kang sing all of his patter songs accurately and hilariously, but his comrades on the stage also unanimously nailed their rapid-fire songs. The finale of Act I was a thrill to behold as the deluge of notes flooded over me. Six singers bounced through notes as thick as ants on a honeybun. Their cacophony aptly bamboozled the bewildered officer amusingly sung by Trevor Martin. This finale is another example of how Rossini deftly used the drawn out crescendo to reflect the growing confusion.
This bright romantic comedy starkly contrasts with and also compliments the FWO’s other festival offerings that cover the dark topics of terrorism, burial and assassination. The traditional set by scenic designer John Stoddart, contains the recognizable European villa elements such as vine-covered walls, iron railings and a palm tree. The whole stage slickly rotates to show the interior of the doctor’s home. Steven Bryant once again created the charming wigs that topped off the beautiful costumes.
In addition, the lyrics (English subtitles by Hanna Guinn) often worked in familiar references such as one that spoke of the ultimate comfort food, macaroni and cheese. This allusion elicited one of the biggest laughs when it bubbled up.
The story is also recognizable—a young girl longs to marry a young man but her old-fogey guardian plots to force her to marry him. A wily friend helps the young couple thwart the geezer’s efforts and true love prevails. (Insert the sound of tweeting lovebirds) That’s the basic core of the plot, but there’s nothing basic about the intricate twists and turns that the storyline and the music take as the two acts unfold. Suffice it to say that by the time it’s all over one feels as though one has just watched a few dozen clowns cram into a Volkswagen and wonders how they could pack in so much in a few hours’ time.
Maren Weinberger performed the governess Berta, and certainly stole the show with her showcase aria. Berta mischievously snuck in glugs of wine and comically yelled into the ear horn of the elderly Ambrogio, performed by Doug Jackson. Jackson’s characterization was the only inconsistency I sensed. One moment he could barely scuffle across the floor and was falling asleep while standing up and leaning on his broom—the next minute he practically gallops after Berta. Had it been played up as the unreliable trait, it could have flown as a dramatic comic switch, but I don’t think it was sufficiently set up that way. Thus, his actions simply came off as incongruous. Still, his droopy hearing-horn was hilarious when others attempted to communicate with him.
Andrew Stenson as Count Almaviva was delightfully adept at embracing the various disguises of a student, a teacher with a hilarious Asian accent, and also, of course, his own love-struck count character. Stenson handled the grueling tenor role with delightful ease, and also managed to squeeze in tight and entertaining comedic timing.
Rossini is said to have made a fast job out of creating this opera by composing it in a span of approximately three weeks. He was a good recycler as the overture and one of the arias were recruited from some of his other operas. Rossini wrote a mere 37 operas. The next time you say you couldn’t possibly accomplish a task, think of the twenty-three year old Rossini composing The Barber of Seville, a major opera, in under three weeks’ time.
THE BARBER OF SEVILLE
Fort Worth Opera Festival
Bass Performance Hall
4th and Calhoun Streets
Fort Worth, TX 76102
Final performances are Friday, May 6th at 7:30 pm and Sunday, May 8th at 2:00 pm
Season subscriptions range from $26 to $379 while single tickets range from $17 to $195. Military receives a discount. Student rush tickets are available, with ID, 15 minutes prior to performance.
Purchase tickets online at www.fwopera.org or call 817-731-0726
(Toll Free 1.877.396.7372).