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Funny Actually Works Quite Well

Keller Auditorium
05/08/2010 -  & May 9, 13, 15
Gioachino Rossini: Il barbiere di Siviglia
Jose Rubio (Firoello), Nicholas Phan (Count Almaviva), Daniel Belcher (Figaro), Jennifer Rivera (Rosina), Steven Condy (Dr. Bartolo), Judith Christin (Berta), Arthur Woodley (Don Basilio), Steven Brennfleck (an officer)
Portland Opera Chorus, Robert Ainsley (chorus master), Portland Opera Orchestra, George Manahan (conductor)
Christopher Mattaliano (stage director), Paul Palazzo (lighting designer), James Scott (costume designer), Allen Moyer (scenic designer)

D. Belcher & J. Rivera (© Cory Weaver)

It is no easy task to produce a popular comedic opera without boring the bejesus out of true opera lovers. But Christopher Mattaliano, director of the Portland Opera as well as of this Il Barbiere di Siviglia, did everything but lull the audience to sleep in this two-act production.

This lively Barber revved up the stage with comedic timing and madcap antics. Mattaliano, his cast and the orchestra took funniness to the hilt, bearing out the prolific composer Rossini’s wish to pull off the pure opera “buffo” two centuries ago. However, in 1816, the opera opened in Rome to boos and hisses. The second night it fared better and has since charmed audiences.

The cast, who acted as vigorously as it sang, was even more amusing than the sets, loaded with trompe l’oeil effects, with doors coming out of portraits (including Rossini’s) and other visual tricks. Funky colors and shapes, like folksy furniture, kept the set from being stodgy.

Add to the scenes the perky mezzo Jennifer Rivera, who sang Rosina. She owns this role in her decorative coloratura voice, having performed it numerous times, including in New York, Berlin, Tampa, Florence, Kansas City, and Dayton. She sang better when in ensemble, as did many of the cast. And the ensemble pieces, put to the music that Rossini drew from six of his earlier operas (hey, he wrote the opera in 13 days), were highlights of the full-tilt production.

Bass Steven Condy, who sang Doctor Bartolo, Rosina’s duped guardian who hoped to marry her but lost out to the suave and tricky Count Almaviva (handsome tenor Nicholas Phan), has performed this part on a number of stages, including Portland’s in 2004. Decked out in a plaid suit, he was flawless and forever funny. He had the best timing among his operatic colleagues. When on stage, flummoxed or partially in control, everything lit up.

And Figaro, sung by animated baritone Daniel Belcher, lived up to the title role of Figaro, the barber who was a master at everything from cutting beards to making marriages (motivated by money, to a great extent). Belcher has performed this role in many places, as have his fellow leads, and knew the clever barber’s idiosyncrasies inside out. He didn’t steal the show, but he held his own amid George Manahan’s musical direction, a master of Mozart, Puccini and Rossini operas.

As well, stage and company director Mattaliano is a pro at dealing with pros. Like any good director, he knows how to pick the best at their jobs.

Aside from the leads, the supporting cast pulled off their roles with comedic flair, as did the chorus, always an element to rely on for musical satisfaction in Portland.

Kudos to the Portland Opera education staff who does a first-rate job with study guide and information sessions. No operagoer anymore has an excuse for not getting a production.

The Portland Opera

Angela Allen



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