The Barber of Seville is a corker of an opera. Even non-opera fans can get their heads and laughter around it, the story and familiar melodies and arias having become so iconic. And for that reason, it is a strong selection to kick off the 2012-2013 season at Michigan Opera Theatre.
Even children can appreciate most of the score and the fun, raucous staging -- perhaps remembering the Bugs Bunny spoof, "The Rabbit of Seville," on the Rossini comic work.
It is also an opera that demands that players not only be good singers, but very good actors. This casting of this production -- which will have performances on October 17, 19, 20, 21 after debuting Saturday, October 13 -- nails it with Russian baritone Rodion Pogossov, who alternates in the role of Figaro with Eugene Chan; soprano Elizabeth DeShong as Rosina, who alternates with Deborah Domanski; and tenor Rene Barbera, as Count Almaviva, who alternates with Eleazor Rodriguez. The four principles in Saturday night's performance excelled in their repertory skills, as well as nailing their notes.
The plot of the opera is this: Count Almaviva is a local nobleman who is besotted by the sexy and vivacious Rosina, who is a ward of a local doctor, Bartolo, who actually has designs on marrying Rosina to get her inheritance. Bartolo, played by baritone Thomas Hammons, is dull, 25 years her senior, prone to wearing loud plaid and argyle, and sports an unattractive hang-dog facial look. Figaro, the local barber, hairdresser, sometimes veterinarian and matchmaker, plays the Count's spritely wing man in his pursuit of Rosina.
Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro revisits the later adventures of the same characters, who were created by the French playwright Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais in the late 18th Century in the so-called "Figaro Trilogy."
Though the opera was written in 1816, it is set in this rendition in the 1920s. Bartolo is a golfer in his leisure, hence the argyle sweaters and knickers we see him in. Director Mario Corradi dials in some lovely, comic modern cues into the script and action, such as Figaro entering on a push-scooter, Figaro improvising a little moonwalk, and Bartolo singing a bit of Beautiful Dreamer, a 19th century Stephen Foster song written years after the opera.
Poggossov's Figaro is one of the best I've seen. He embodies the character of the village improviser, fixer, schemer, bounder and friend. Barbera's Count is terrific, especially in scenes where he is wearing a disguise inside Bartolo's house, first as soldier and then priest. DeShong is a soprano with excellent range who is a classic operatic actress, wearing her flirty sexuality from hair to shoes without it being heavy-handed.
Barber of Seville, Marriage of Figaro, La Boheme and Carmen make up four of the most often produced operas in the United States. They are crowd-pleasers with familiar tunes and arias. It is an ideal opera to which parents can bring children who are taken with music and theater. Sung in Italian, English super-titles are projected above the stage.
Next month, the Michigan Opera Theatre will produce Handel's Julius Caesar -- opening night Nov. 10; followed by Beethoven's Fidelio in April and Verdi's Aida in May.