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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, January 28, 2011 - Volume 39 Issue 04
Kudos, laughter and disappointment at Seattle Opera's Seville
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Kudos, laughter and disappointment at Seattle Opera's Seville

by Rod Parke - SGN A&E Writer Rossini's Barber of Seville
January 22
Seattle Opera, McCaw Hall


Kudos to Seattle Opera for mounting a most successful production of Rossini's great comedy, The Barber of Seville. I envy those who, unpolluted by operatic snobbery, laughed hard and had a great time at this show. Alas, my experience was tempered by an ill-timed viewing the night before of a spectacular DVD of this opera from Covent Garden.

I have long been fascinated by how many famous and good conductors don't 'get' Rossini, missing his special wit and charm. The overture sounds simple and would seem easy to play well. Played absolutely straight, as Dean Williamson did at Seattle Opera, it was less than satisfying. Trouble is, it can be so much more.

In fact, as conducted by Anthony Pappano in the Covent Garden DVD, that overture whipped up such a froth of fun and sophisticated wit that the listener could not avoid being totally seduced. More important, it set the tone for the whole performance. Throughout the opera, Pappano got more humor from the musical score than I have ever heard before, including the Met Live in HD performance of the great Bartlett Sher production, superbly conducted by Maurizio Benini. These two conductors highlighted the wit by nearly opposite, but equally effective, methods: Benini by vital tempi and knowing lightness and balances; Pappano by an almost burlesque use of rubato, playful balances, and bouncing rhythms.

Unfortunately, Dean Williamson, whose work I have admired greatly in the past, led a straight-faced, humorless, metronomic reading that lacked good orchestral balances and never got off the ground. While the singers and the stage direction by Peter Kazaras often generated humor and life in this show, the orchestra seldom joined in the fun. Only by ignoring the missing orchestral nuances could one really have fun at this show. I had difficulty doing that.

There was one other problem with this particular performance: Lawrence Brownlee seemed underpowered almost all evening. I have never before felt his voice lacked sufficient weight to fill the auditorium with ample and glorious sound. But this evening his sound didn't carry well at all. Several friends confirmed that they too had difficulty hearing him well. I suspect he may have been not feeling his best. With a technique and instrument as perfect as his, he certainly didn't need to 'save' his voice for the famously demanding final aria. In all other regards, this great Rossini tenor showed his stuff to terrific audience approval.

Otherwise, it was a golden evening. The set (from the Canadian Opera Company) - a three-faced, revolving piece - was not only useful but quite attractive and appropriate. The American debut of José Carbó, from Argentina, was nothing less than spectacular. Large in both voice and personality, his attractive baritone bloomed with charm and terrific coloratura. Soprano Sarah Coburn (Adele in Seattle's 2006 Die Fledermause) was near-perfection as Rosina. Attractive, lively, and effective stage presence added to her wonderful singing, which included good trills, stunning coloratura, and thrilling high notes.

Turkish Bass Burak Bilgili (husband of Eglise Gutiérrez) was an effective, big-voiced Don Basilio, clearly having a good time with his comic bits. Patrick Carfizzi, looking younger than most Bartolos, sang and acted well, carrying his important role with ease. Seattle Opera Young Artist Daniel Scofield (Fiorello) handled his short part a little awkwardly but sang well enough. And actor David S. Hogan as the quiet Ambrogio was quite hilarious and made a spectacular staged fall.

Seattle is fortunate to have frequent opportunities to enjoy the great soprano Sally Wolf, who debuted here as a fantastic Queen of the Night (1987) and who now sings smaller roles. Her Berta nearly stole several of her scenes with her opulent voice and terrific comic sense.

(Although I usually review both casts at Seattle Opera, indisposition kept me away from the matinee performance.)

Reviewer Rod Parke can be reached at rmp62@columbia.edu.

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