|Joshua Hopkins and Rock Lasky|
Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival
The opera opens with an overture that has become its own classic, and Festival music director Joseph Colaneri hits it with a Toscanini-like intensity, which is my definition of the best possible performance. There’s little time for breath when the orchestra kicks in, yet Colanari shapes the sound of this tight little group with impressive precision. And when the orchestra is pausing, Christopher Devlin is burning up the keyboard with smooth, witty continuo work.
Walton’s Almaviva is a determined but likeable fellow. He’s immediately thrown into a cavatina, a simple song of adoration for which, according to opera buffa tradition, the singer self-accompanies. It doesn’t matter that he has an instrumental ensemble performing alongside: he’s meant to mime to a guitar. Walton dispenses with the mime portion and actually plays the thing, while singing in an easygoing, effective voice that makes it sound simple – and then he gets to his aria “Se il mio nome” a little later and we discover the richness (and technique) that’s been waiting.
His “Che invenzione” duet with Hopkins sparkled with a refreshing liveliness, and his impersonations of a drunken soldier and, especially, an adenoidal music teacher in Act Three were comic highlights.
This opera traditionally is a scene-stealing contest among the men in the cast, and Tim Bruno, as the amoral Don Basilio, threw down the gauntlet early on with his rendition of “La calunia,” a crescendo of villainy extolling the merits of calumny. He didn’t need assistance from props – but we’ll get to that.
For sheer vocal stamina, Travis wins the day. Bartolo likes to express himself with such fervor that his words fly by at breakneck speed, and Travis kept up the patter long after most mortals would have packed it in.
|Joshua Hopkins, Emily D'Angelo, |
Timothy Bruno, David Walton, and Dale Travis
Photo: Connor Lange/The Glimmerglass Festival
Rossini’s “Barber” is a busy piece, especially when the characters come together in ensemble numbers. Act Two’s finale, “Mi par d’esser con la testa,” is an absolute marvel of tricky comic writing, bringing in the chorus to help the melee, and Act Three’s “La testa vi gira” is a kind of chase that seems to be bringing the lovers together even as a puzzled Basilio is sent from the house. Balance between orchestra and singers was always just right, and no technical challenge failed to be bested.
You won’t mistake this for anything but a comedy. Rossini wrote it that way, and it has picked up performance traditions that ensure the laughs. So it’s puzzling to see a production that clobbers us with superfluous gags. The first sign was, in fact, a sign. “I laugh at everything in order not to cry,” a quote from Beaumarchais, who wrote the play upon which the opera is based. But it – and the excess of signage that plagued the piece – fell victim to the Goofy Typeface Phenomenon, in which a wacky array of letters sledgehammers home the point that this is supposed to be funny.
Each in the chorus was dressed in Pulcinella gown and mask, topped with a tall sugar-loaf hat. This I can deal with (it’s still not necessary), but to have them prance – courbette, really, like Lippizaners – was a bit much. It seemed like a different show when the chorus intruded, especially when wielding their over-exaggerated props. It got laughs, but too many of those laughs were at the expense of a story that by now has a fragile reality.
Yet the music endures, and invites a singer’s best – and these are some of the best singers you’re going to hear in it. Performances continue at the Glimmerglass Festival through August 25, 2018.
The Barber of Seville
Music by Gioachino Rossini
Libretto by Cesare Sterbini
Conducted by Joseph Colaneri
Directed by Francesca Zambello
The Glimmerglass Festival, Cooperstown, NY
Alice Busch Opera Theater, July 14, 2018