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Shave and a Haircut, with Fun

Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, Miami
11/14/2015 -  & November 15*, 17, 20, 21, 2015
Gioachino Rossini: Il barbiere di Siviglia
Brian James Myer (Figaro), Hilary Ginther (Rosina), Javier Abreu (Count Almaviva), Kevin Glavin (Doctor Bartolo), Alex Soare (Don Basilio), Eliza Bonet (Berta), Nick Ward (Fiorello), Edgar Miguel Abreu (Ambrogio), Zachary Elmassian (Officer)
Florida Grand Opera Chorus, Kathleen Kozak (chorus master), Florida Grand Opera Orchestra, Ramón Tebar (conductor)
Dennis Garnhum (director), Allan Stichbury (scenic design), Howard Tsvi Kaplan (costume design), David Martin Jacques (lighting design)

B. J. Myer, H. Ginther
(© Brittany Mazzurco Muscato for Florida Grand Opera)

For its season opener, Florida Grand Opera chose the most popular comic opera in the entire repertory. Anyone looking for much edge is not going to find it here. This time, the whole thing is about fun. One never feels that there is any doubt that the heroine, Rosina, won’t get what she wants; she would certainly never succumb to what her guardian (in this case, boss) expects. Rosina was a feminist way before it was commonplace. A satisfying Il barbiere di Siviglia requires a tight ensemble; this is farce, anyone not part of the adventure can throw the whole thing off. Rosina, however, is the lynchpin; she is tough but if she becomes cruel, the fun is gone. If she is too passive, we might feel there really is some danger in the outcome and the cheeriness would be obliterated. Though this opera is done often, that doesn’t mean it is easy to pull off. For this production three of the five principals are members of Florida Grand Opera’s Young Artist program. A memorable production of Barbiere must walk a very fine tightrope. Inexperience could mean that this wonderful clown car crashes.

But it is safe to say that if you once loved but have become apathetic about yet another Barbiere, this one will restore your enthusiasm (hope I have the opportunity to see it again before the run ends). And the cast is the main draw. Brian James Myer, a talented comedian, makes an extremely handsome and agile Figaro with a beautiful, though not over powering baritone. The Bartolo of Kevin Glavin is hilarious and has just the sarcasm and lovability to make us laugh when he gets his comeuppance yet at the same time feel at least an ounce of pity. Glavin played this role at Florida Grand Opera many years ago. The voice is amazingly fresh and his gift as a buffo comedian has grown significantly.

Javier Abreu’s Lindoro is an obsessed fan of Hilary Ginther’s narcissistic movie star Rosina. We well know it will be a rocky road for these two self-centered young people, but it is sweet to see the extremes they are willing to risk in order to get hitched. Abreu steals the opera with his entrance and opening scene in Act Two as Alonso. His solid voice is sufficient but his willingness to stoop to just about anything in order to get his laughs is truly heroic. Ginther’s lovely voice offers much promise and will become more pointed as she better understands coloring the text. And though Alex Soare’s Basilio is also very fine of voice, he needed stronger direction to be able to milk the hilarity from this silly man. When Basilio unexpectedly enters during Don Alonso’s lesson, there is no shock, not even a glimmer of surprise. Pretty Eliza Bonet makes it perfectly clear just how disgusted poor Berta has become while trying to pacify such spoiled employers.

The concept for this wonderful production might require ignoring some subtleties in the libretto, but it pays off. Here Bartolo is the studio head of a Spanish movie company who is chasing after Rosina, his musical star à la Judy Garland. Naturally Bartolo Studios requires a hairstylist and music teacher who must continuously scheme in order to maintain their power.

The physical production of this Barber is filled with wonder. Set in the 1940s, Howard Tsvi Kaplan has a ball using solid tasteful colors and designs that refer to an elegant lost era of movie making. Allan Stichbury’s set is a marvel of imagination and good humor. And David Martin Jacques lighting creates breathtaking moments.

There are some missteps when things get too confusing (mainly when there is too much stage commotion) or sometimes too extreme to be funny, but director Dennis Garnhum has a clear vision that makes this unconventional approach something to be welcomed not feared. The saner second act allowed Ms. Ginther to loosen up and reveal her potential. Garnhum’s goal is simply to have uncomplicated fun, but with style and elegance.

But the pleasures of this performance would not be so tremendous without the giant talent of Ramón Tebar in the pit. This conductor loves the score, understands every drop of Rossini’s humor never belaboring a phrase or calling attention to the orchestra’s brilliance. Florida Grand Opera’s wonderful chorus, under the direction of Kathleen Kozak, is eager and able participants in the madcap merriment.

Welcome back, Barber. Beethoven said that this work would be performed as long as Italian opera exists. And with this production, never fresher.

Jeff Haller



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