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Well Groomed

Olympia Theatre, Miami Beach
08/18/2012 -  & August 19*, 2012
Gioachino Rossini: Il barbiere di Siviglia
Nelson Martinez (Figaro), Lissette Jimenez (Rosina), David Pereira (Conte Almaviva), Stefano de Peppo (Dottore Bartolo), Carlos Conde (Don Basilio), Daisy Su (Berta), Matthew Caines (Fiorello), Eric Dobkin (Sargente)

Miami Lyric Opera and chorus, Pablo Hernandez (chorus master), Beverly Coulter (conductor)
Raffaele Cardone (director), Stivinello (scenic design), Miami Lyric Opera (costume design), Kristina Villaverde (lighting design)

N. Martinez & L. Jimenez (Courtesy of MLO)

Rossini comedies are complex. In a way they are not unlike the Broadway musical. The beautiful songs generally do not progress the plot but serve more to develop character. The sung dialogue
is not melodically interesting but is essential for moving the storyline. What makes Il barbiere di Siviglia so popular is that in addition to some of the most well-known tunes in all of opera, Beaumarchais' characters are so darned funny and loveable.

And so a performance of Barbiere means a great time, right? Wrong. Barbiere requires not just confident singing of some of the most difficult music ever written, but succeeds only when the performers are enthralled with kickin' up some capers. Having brilliant singers with no sense of comedy can turn this opera into a pretty dull affair. And because the recitative is accompanied only by harpsichord, talented singing actors are vital to keep things moving at a good clip.

Miami Lyric Opera first did this work five years ago. Though the performers were quite good, a weak orchestra kept the production almost moribund. This time the same three leads have re-assumed the roles. With much stronger musicians in the pit, the glorious-voiced Nelson Martinez's Figaro has cut loose with his soaring comic gift. Lissette Jimenez's over calculated “Una voce Poco fa” demonstrated her rich darkness, but unfortunately gave up Rosina's youth sounding more like Ballo's Ulrica. For the rest of the performance the girlish Rosina,
with glamorous Marilyn Horneish sound, was back with Jimenez making her one tough though never unkind cookie; perhaps just enthusiastic about her chance to make mischief. The baritone and mezzo made “Dunque io son” one of the evening's highlights both musically and dramatically.

The weakest link of 2007's trio was the Count of David Pereira. His beautiful voice lacked his comrades' power to overcome the orchestra. Now, however, with greater vocal confidence, he becomes the prankster essential for giving this farce its credibility. His serenade to Rosina “Se il mio nome” is delivered with a rare degree of emotional depth and honesty. Pereira understands that the Count's love is real; over-mugging is going to make the audience see the entire affair as a charade. Yet he does not avoid the comic potential in “Pace e gioia” and brings a warmth of tone to the silliness, making his rival's inability to withstand deception completely believable; the old man is being fooled by pros. Pereira has truly come into his own; his future seems assured.

And who can forget Stefano de Peppe's Doctor Bartolo? In addition to making his comedic points, he has a lovely tone so it is unfortunate that “Quando me sei vicina” is never completed. As an actor he might just be too agile to make Bartolo the doddering fool we are used to, but should one complain about getting the unexpected? Carlos Conde, though perhaps a bit too bright in tone is always on target and his characterization never makes the borderline creepy Basilio too menacing; we always feel he is laughing along with us.

Berta is one of the most underrated of opera roles. “Il vecchiotto cerca moglie” is not to be ignored for all of its musical and acting possibilities. And much would be lost in the ensembles if she isn't on her toes. With the now always reliable Daisy Su, many may re-estimate Berta's significance. Fiorello is also an under-appreciated role. He sings before anyone else and his precision can indicate where the performance is headed. The robust Matthew Caines signals that we are in good hands. And boy, does Eric Dobkin make an impression with the Sergeant's notes! Miami Lyric Opera's mission of promoting young talent is proving enormously successful.

Conductor Beverly Coulter lightness of approach shapes the performance with the subtle effervescence of Rossini comedy. Confident agility is hard to balance, but Coulter nailed it. Since this piece lacks much edge, it is praiseworthy that she avoided the danger of becoming too precious. Barbiere's entirely male chorus is up to the task and is particularly winning in the first scene which remains clear in both sound and comedy.

Such dedication to text is emphasized by the director, Raffaele Cardone (a seasoned Almaviva himself) who understands that farce can be ruined when any member of the ensemble isn't playing for the team. Cardone never lets us become aware of his machinations, treating the libretto as sacred. Never have I attended a Barbiere as comprehensible.

So if this is your first Barbiere, it is now clear why it is so popular and will never go out of the standard repertory. If you are an experienced Barbierean, you can't help appreciating how right they got it this time.

This production returns to the Colony Theatre in Miami Beach on October 6 and 7 with several cast changes. If you love musical theatre, don't miss it.

Jeff Haller



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