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A Stunning Blockbuster

Los Angeles
Los Angeles Opera
11/29/2009 -  & December 2, 5, 6, 9, 12, 13, 16, 19, 2009
Gioacchino Rossini: Il barbiere di Siviglia
Nathan Gunn*/Lucas Meachem (Figaro), Juan Diego Flórez*/Dmitry Korchak (Count Almaviva), Joyce DiDonato*/Sarah Coburn (Rosina), Bruno Praticò*/Philip Cokorinos (Dr. Bartolo), Andrea Silvestrelli*/Ryan McKinny (Don Basilio), José Adán Pérez*/Daniel Armstrong (Fiorello), Kerri Marcinko*/Ronnita Miller (Berta), Juan Talavera (Ambrogio), Craig Colclough (Sargent)
Stuart Canin (Los Angeles Opera Concertmaster), Grant Gershon (Associate Conductor/Chorus Master), Michele Mariotti (Conductor)
Javier Ulacia (Director), Emilio Sagi (Original Producer), Llorenç Corbella (Scenery Designer), Eduardo Bravo (Lighting Designer), Renata Schussheim (Costume Designer), Núria Castejón (Choreographer)

(© Javier del Real/Teatro Real)

One of the significant forces behind the development of Italian and French opera in the 1800’s was that of Gioacchino Rossini. Since both parents were musicians, Rossini began playing piano and cello at an early age, rapidly blossoming into other musical ventures. Rossini was a prolific composer, and by age twenty-one he had already written ten operas. It’s not surprising that it only took him two weeks to write Il Barbiere di Siviglia (1816) despite recycling his sinfonia from the opera, Aureliano in Palmira (1813) to conserve time. Hastily put together, however, Il Barbiere di Siviglia was fraught with production problems, and, thus, it was poorly received on opening night. The tables turned quickly with subsequent audiences consistently giving nods of approval that has continued over the years.

The talents of Emilio Sagi’s Teatro Real production return to stage that are cleverly constructed, symbolically colorful, and tastefully economical. Toward the end of Michele Mariotti’s attentively conducted overture we are witness to cast members innocuously assembling the Llorenç Corbella set comprised of ornate Spanish architecture bathed in various shades of grey, silver and white. It serves as an important arch to supporting the singing and acting on stage.

Black and white serves as an absolute in Renata Schussheim’s costuming during Act I that subtly adds color as the opera progresses to signify the characters’ true identities. Similarly, the scenery unfolds with more color when Prussian blue panels slowly drop from the cornices of the ceiling amidst a patterned wallpaper featuring the bust of Rossini, a forever reminder of the Italian genius.

Making his Los Angeles Opera debut is Peruvian Juan Diego Flórez as the dashing and mischievous Count Almaviva. He has it all: good looks, incredible acting, and, most of all, a buttery tenor voice. His meticulousness is sung in every note, and it is executed with such rapid clarity, most clearly demonstrated in the oft omitted aria in Act II, “Cessa di più resistere”. It is no wonder that Juan Diego Flórez is justifiably today’s “king” of bel canto.

The flirtatious Rosina, sung by Joyce DiDonato, is a charm as she performs naturally and soars flawlessly and accurately while shining specifically during her famous aria, “Una voce poco fa”. Ms. DiDonato is now frequently paired with Mr. Flórez and with good reason. We smile in admiration.

Last season’s initial appearance in Los Angeles as Papageno in Die Zauberflöte, Nathan Gunn revisits as the opportunistic and conniving Figaro, working his magic throughout this opera buffa to the delight of viewers with his splendid voice and entertaining antics. Now a favorite with local opera aficionados, Gunn’s masculine aura is ever present.

Movement of characters on stage is critical to any production. Returning from a successful performance of Luisa Fernanda in 2007, Nuria Castejón again weaves her choreography in a skillfully pleasing manner. This famed Flamenco dancer exemplifies her dance discipline, utilizing Grant Gershon’s chorus members to occupy the periodic vacuumed moments with Latin steps notwithstanding its slightly overused and abundant accentuation which occasionally distracts from the higher level of drama. During Andrea Silvestrelli’s rendition of the Don Basilio aria, “La calunnia è un venticello”, the booming Italian bass broadly blasts Dr. Bartolo off his chair, sheepishly creeping under a symbolically growing white sheet entitled “rumour”.

Los Angeles is fortunate to have another debut featuring Bruno Praticò in the role as Dr. Bartolo. As a regular guest at Pesaro, Italy’s Rossini Opera Festival, he is one of the acclaimed actors that compliments the other principals in making this a tour de force. Dressed as an overstuffed and corpulent ward, he adds to the heightened hilarity, but he also carries incredible vocal distinction during “A un dottor”.

Another comic side bar is Berta the maid who continuously amuses us with a half smoked cigarette forever dangling in her mouth while she nags and bosses all of the staff. Likewise, José Adán Pérez, handling the role of Fiorello, is amusing enough along with the other supporting roles of Juan Talavera as Ambrogio and Craig Colclough as the Sergeant.

The thunderstorm is very ingenuous through the work of lighting designer Eduardo Bravo. This transition between scenes of Act II is carried out using a closed scrim upon which scattered bolts of moving raindrops rest while Berta waltzes in fantasy at the back of the stage. The degree of luminance snugly fits events on stage at the moment.

All resolves in a happy ending when the sets and walls suddenly disappear into the wings and the stage instantaneously floods with colorful kites and stars, complimented by a brilliantly smiling red balloon that carries off Rosina and Count Almaviva into celestial bliss. Discreetly behind the scenes talent shines brightly as a representative tribute.

The foundation of Il Barbiere di Siviglia requires first-class singers. Los Angeles Opera lives up to its name by bringing top notch artists together to provide an afternoon of delightful entertainment.

Christie Grimstad



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