Music critic and journalist
     Cheryl North :: Reviews

Livermore Valley Opera Performance of Giacomo Rossini's Opera, The Barber of Seville

Review of the October 11, 2008 performance published in papers of the Bay Area News Group.

By Cheryl North

For anyone looking for a break from the grim economic news, I can think of no better remedy than to take in one of the four remaining performances of the Livermore Valley Opera's jolly production of Rossini's The Barber of Seville continuing this week in that city's impressive two-year-old Bankhead Theater. Such a break could seem more like a holiday.

This 1816 comic opera, with a libretto by the France's inimitable satirist Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais, is one of the world's greatest, most enduring, musical comedies. A work in which both the music and the drama are matched to a fare-thee-well, it bubbles over with irresistibly ebullient tunes and effervescent orchestration.

While the LVO production is understandably not up to San Francisco or Metropolitan Opera levels, it still makes for a darned good show. Opening last Saturday, it featured a commendable cast, singing under the musical guidance of conductor Alex Katsman, and acting under the skills of stage director Daniel Helfgot. One and all seemed to be having a rollicking good time, and they delivered multiple pleasures to the audience.

Barber's timeless tale charts the come-uppance of Dr. Bartolo, a crusty old curmudgeon living in 18th century Seville, as he attempts to woo his lovely young ward, Rosina, into marriage, thereby gaining access to both her inheritance and her charms. She, in turn, is ardently wooed by Lindoro, who is not really Lindoro, but rather, the rich aristocrat, Count Almaviva in disguise. Appearing in the nick of time to help everyone, is the canny, lovable, multi-talented Figaro, a.k.a. the storied "Barber of Seville."

The role of Bartolo was played to the comic hilt by the masterful basso buffo David Ward, while the Layna Chianakas created a lovely, spirited Rosina. Baritone Igor Vieira, with his creative playfulness, clever scheming, and athletic agility, was convincingly type-cast as Figaro.

Musically speaking, tenor Robert McPherson, in the role of Lindoro/Count Almaviva, was most impressive with his winning combination of a big, suave tenor voice that projected clarion-like to Bankhead's furthermost reaches. Moreover, McPherson displayed a keen sense of comic timing and fun that transmitted right to audience laugh buttons.

Last Saturday's opening orchestral overture however, was weighted down by leaden tempos, which no doubt helped dull some of the potential spark of the initial stage action. Even Lindoro's Serenade, sung beneath Rosina's shuttered bedroom window, strayed closer to being a dirge than an ardent encomium to her charms.

But within no more than a few minutes after the comic antics of a couple of flautists "playing" in the onstage pantomime orchestra, stirred up laughter in the audience as well as the needed energy in the orchestra. The cast of fine singing actors then proceeded to turn up both the heat and the charm.

Colorful costumes designed by Nancy Peacock fit harmoniously into the minimal, but ingeniously conceived sets by Jean-Francois Revon, which could quickly reverse from an exterior street scene into Bartolo's interior drawing room.

As the fussy Don Basinio, tall, rangy Kevin Nakatani, dressed in a black cassock-like coat, comically augmented by red and white stripped stockings, pointy-toed shoes and an umbrella topped by a sort of plumber's helper, brought laughter every time he walked onstage. Other production attractions were an excellent baker's dozen male chorus doubling as the musicians accompanying Lindoro's opening serenade as well as the looting policemen; Marcella Caprario as the maid Berta; Michael Beetham as Fiorello, and R .Doug Holt as the notary.

So, take a break from any financial trauma and treat yourself to a bit of light-hearted laughter with a trek to Livermore's Barber of Seville.

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