The Barber of Seville
nytheatre.com review by Anthony C.E. Nelson
December 26, 2009
In the catacomb-like space of the Bleecker Street Theatre's Green Room, amidst the chaos of late seating and small staircases, some first-rate opera singers are doing business. One of two companies to rise from the recently defunct Amato Opera Company, Bleecker Street Opera is mounting its second full production with The Barber of Seville, and they seem to still be working out some of the kinks.
I have to admit, although I enjoy listening to the occasional piece of opera, my one experience with a full-scale production was a visit to the Washington National Opera during my high school career. So I may not be the best qualified individual to compare the Bleecker Street Opera's production of The Barber of Seville to other interpretations.
The plot, if you need it, can be found here. I won't spend much time on it because, honestly, I couldn't really tell what was going on between the big moments of song (in fairness, the subtitles were malfunctioning at the performance I attended). In short, Count Almaviva wants to win the love of the lovely Rosina on his own merits, not because of his money. With the help of his former servant Figaro, he comes up with a plot to disguise himself as a soldier in order to gain access to the house of her father, Dr. Bartolo. Complications ensue.
The most important thing in this production is the voices, and they are uniformly strong. William Browning is marvelous as Figaro, throwing himself into the role with gusto. He fills the moments of his songs with little gestures and winks and nods that really augment the meaning of the Italian. Malena Dayen is every bit his match as the saucy Rosina, filling in bits of her performance with moments of contemporary physicality that work exceptionally well. Anthony Daino may not be exactly the right age for Count Almaviva, but he seems aware of this fact, and the goofy grin he keeps fixed on his face throughout helped me enjoy this older man tearing into a young man's role with relish.
In the smaller roles, Sam Smith plays Basilio with great relish. I think Alan Smullen will find his way into the role of Bartolo by the end of the run; at the performance I saw he had a strong grasp of the character but not of the words he was supposed to sing and had to seek help from the conductor on a number of occasions. Vern Woodhead as Fiorello and the lead member of the Chorus has a strong voice, but sometimes seemed uncomfortable and could use some work with a strong acting teacher on stage presence.
Stage director Teresa K. Pond mostly keeps out of the way, throwing in some bits of physical comedy where she can. The success levels of these vary depending on the singer's commitment, which ranges from strong in the case of the leads to notably weak in the chorus, some of whom seem to lose interest halfway through their assigned bits. She might try to retool the end a bit to make it clear that the production is finished.
Music director and conductor David Rosenmeyer helms a first-rate live orchestra, and it's a real pleasure to hear them work. Rosenmeyer himself is a strong stage presence, making a curtain speech and throwing out the occasional dropped line with verve.
Bleecker Street's production isn't an artistic triumph by any means. Too much is unclear or unfinished. But the opportunity to hear marvelous singers like Browning, Dayen, and Daino tear into this wonderful score from ten feet in front of you is well worth the investment of two hours.