Figaro, Figaro, Figaro… at Repertory Opera

By Tadzio Garcia, guest reviewer

Rossini’s perennially popular opera, The Barber of Seville, which premiered in 1816, sets the first of three Beaumarchais plays dealing with Figaro’s wit and comments on contemporary society. To be sure, Rossini’s composition puts his singers through their paces. Each character demands a wide and agile range and there was plenty on display in Repertory Opera Company‘s (ROC) staging of the opera on Wednesday, June 17th.

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Shawn Taylor as Fiorello

Rossini’s stock commedia dell’arte characters are complete with vocal fireworks and complex stage business, delighting the audience in this foray into 19th century opera. ROC’s performance built to a musical and dramatic crescendo of comedy and vocal brilliance, each scene adding to the previous one. The principal cast of vocally skilled singer/actors filled their characters with comedic shtick, besides the commitment and beauty they brought to their roles.

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Brian Farrell at the piano

ROC’s creative vision for this opera buffa masterpiece included recitatives spoken in English to help move the drama along. The chorus and the rest of the ensemble players illuminated the intricate weavings of the Rossini style, engagingly staged with humorous intrigues. The costumes and set designs were charming and evoked a sense of an early 19th century salon.

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LizBeth Lucca as Berta, center front, with Count Almaviva’s men

Brian Farrell, ROC musical director, accompanied the opera on piano and brought out a musical interpretation and timbres that clearly identified the orchestration—a mix of strings, brass, winds and emotions—in a masterful way. Artistic director LizBeth Lucca’s stage directions developed the story with wit and imagination. Lucca also performed as Berta, a servant of Dr. Bartolo. Her aria, “Il vecchiotto cerca moglie,” was met with a burst of enthusiasm and bravos. It is always exciting when an audience pauses the performance, even briefly, to show their approval.

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Michael Valentekovic as Dr. Bartolo; Kyle Patterson as Count Almaviva disguised as the Music Teacher

Some of the outstanding moments came in unexpected places, such as when Dr. Bartolo, played by Michael Valentekovic, tackled a buzzing fly during his aria, “A un dottor della mia sorte,” which made one want to grab a fly swatter. (Bartolo eventually swallowed the fly.) Valentekovic’s basso buffo role is hilarious, athletic and beautiful.

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Nandani Sinha as Rosina

Nandani Sinha, as Rosina, displayed a version of Rossini’s original contralto role with a rich velvety tone, the instincts of an actress, and the technical ability of a master mezzo-soprano with cleanly executed coloratura runs and trills. Sinha employed dynamics which include melting on the highest of notes. Like a finely tuned Beverly Sills or Marilyn Horne, her interpretation included suitable increases of tempi at the ends of key phrases, leaving one awestruck.

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Justin Brunette as Figaro; Kyle Patterson as Count Almaviva

Kyle Patterson’s grasp of Count Almaviva was a comical and emotional rendition with various character voices for his disguised roles—the music master, the soldier, etc. His lyrical ease and facility was breathtaking. Justin Brunette, as Figaro, is a show-stopper with powerful vocal agility in abundance. His performance of the legendary patter aria, “Largo al factotum,” was belted out with precision. Additional cast members included Kevin Wiley as Dr. Basilio, Shawn Taylor as Fiorello, Wai Chan as Ambrogio, and A. Brian Anderson as an Officer.

The final performance of ROC’s The Barber of Seville is Saturday, June 27 at the First Christian Church in Pomona at 2 PM. For more information, click here or go to the Repertory Opera Company website at www.RepertoryOperaCompany.org.

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