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Bubbling Barbiere Opens Opera San Jose Season

San Jose
Opera San Jose, Montgomery Theatre
09/11/1999 -  and 12, 14, 16, 18, 19, 21, 23, 25, 26, September and 1 and 3, October
Gioacchino Rossini : Il Barbiere di Siviglia
Roberto Perlas Gomez/Constantinos Yiannoudes (Figaro), Sandra Rubalcava/Christina Major (Rosina), Jonathan Hodel/Todd Miller (Count Almaviva), Douglas Nagel/Carl King (Doctor Bartolo), Christopher Dickerson/Dean Elzinga (Don Basilio), Joseph Wright/Adam Flowers (Fiorello), Patrice Houston/Monica Barnes (Berta), Joshua La Force (Officer), Joseph Muir (Notary)
Orchestra and Chorus of Opera San Jose, David Rohrbaugh/Barbara Day Turner, Conductor
Daniel Helfgot, Stage Director

Opera San Jose, opening its season the same night as the San Francisco Opera this year, gave its patrons a delightful production of Rossiniís most popular work, Il Barbiere di Siviglia. The youthful energy of the cast matched the scoreís exuberance and verve, providing plenty of humor and a good deal of fine singing along the way.

The opening night performance got off to an uneven start with the orchestral balance favoring the lower instruments and giving the overture a heavy-handed feeling. The opening scene was also uneven with excessive shtick that wasnít funny. The bright spot was Joseph Wrightís Fiorello, sung in his solid, robust tone and delivered with natural easy and grace. Wright continues to develop as a singer and actor and his appearance with Opera San Jose are always welcome.

Tenor, Jonathan Hodel, had a rough time with an opening aria that lacked both vocal suavity and the flexibility necessary to negotiate the rapid passage work adequately. His decision to end the aria on the upward tonic was both musically questionable and vocally unfortunate. As Count Almaviva, he lacked the comic flair and the stage presence to carry off the role on the same level as his fellow performers. Wayward pitch and consistent failure to sing through to the end of phrases marred his valiant attempt at Rossiniís elegant writing.

After that, the production was on much surer footing. Roberto Perlas Gomez came on oozing confidence and bristling with energy as Figaro. His robust baritone boasts a firm round tone evenly produced throughout the range that projects easily over the orchestra. His was a resourceful, charming Figaro, self-assured but never arrogant and delightfully sympathetic to Rosinaís plight.

Stage director Daniel Helfgot gave his cast plenty of physical action, complimenting Rossiniís lively score, and all the performers gamely entered into the fun. Playing with props, scampering about stage, indulging in running gags and asides to the audience all came into play and it all worked to create a sense of mischievous fun. The key to the success was in having the excesses be organic to the character. One did not sense it was the performer indulging, but the character and that made all the difference. Douglas Nagelís Doctor Bartolo and Christopher Dickersonís Don Basilio were perfect examples of this. Both characterizations were taken to an extreme that veered dangerously close to excess, but both were markedly consistent and well executed. Nagelís fussy, crotchety Bartolo was loveably foolish. Vocally Nagel was in excellent voice, his bass-baritone easily filling the Montgomery Theater. The tone was clear and focused, the support solid. Nagel not only handled the rapid passages in his comic aria with its demanding patter enviable easy, but did so while popping in and out of doorways and chasing about the stage. Nagelís infectious sense of joy of performing and singing swept up the audience and carried it along for the ride. Dickerson was not in Nagelís league vocally, but he acquitted himself well with some of his best singing for the company. And his version of Don Basilio was wonderfully outrageous. Played as a sort of ghoulish eccentric, during his "La Calumnia", Dickerson was all over the set as if hypnotized by his own wicked cleverness.

All of these characters whirled around Rosina who, as performed by Sandra Rubalcava, appeared never to be in any real doubt that she was in control of each and every one of them. Vivacious, playful and willful, Rubalcavaís Rosina knowingly manipulated the men in her life with seductive charm rather than resorting to spite or harshness. And her charm and warmth carried through to her singing as well. With a warm full middle voice and an easy, bright top, Rubalcava did a fine job of bringing Rosina to life on musical as well as theatrical terms.

Helfgot made some pretty challenging physical demands on his cast, but never beyond their capabilities. His physical humor was broad, but it was consistently employed and the resulting romp captured the zest of the score and showcased the gifted cast to good advantage.

Conductor David Rohrbaugh did not manage to elicit quite the same liveliness from the score that the stage provided, but provided strong leadership and kept a tight rein on the vocal ensembles.

For an upbeat season opener, Opera San Jose could hardly have done better than this Il Barbiere di Siviglia. It showcased a gifted cast and left an audience entertained and looking forward to more in a season that will also include the world premier of a opera version of The Nutcracker, commissioned by the company, as well as Carmen and La Traviata.

Kelly Snyder



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