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A lively success

The Winspear Opera House
03/28/2014 -  & March 30, April 2, 5, 11, 13, 2014
Gioachino Rossini: Il barbiere di Siviglia
Nathan Gunn (Figaro), Isabel Leonard (Rosina), Alek Shrader (Count Almaviva), Donato di Stefano (Dr. Bartolo), Burak Bilgili (Don Basilio), Jennifer Aylmer (Berta), Nathan De’Shon Meyers (Fiorello), Christian Teague (Ambrogio), Brian Post (Sergeant)
The Dallas Opera Chorus, Alexander Rom (chorus master), The Dallas Opera Orchestra, Giuliano Carella (conductor)
John Copley (original production), Herb Kellner (director), John Conklin (set designer), Michael Stennett (costume designer), Gary Marder (lighting designer)

N. Gunn, I. Leonard (© Karen Almond/Dallas Opera)

This lively production starred a vibrant cast with a notable degree of personal chemistry - which is no surprise since the Figaro, Rosina and Almaviva had just completed a run of the opera with Chicago’s Lyric Opera.

The drop curtain gives an indication of the production’s approach as it features a design d’après Magritte. The set featured many of René Magritte’s trademark images such as the enigmatic derby hat and chairs, all against a backdrop of incongruous indoor clouds. This served to elevate the proceedings from the realm of knockabout farce to outright surrealism. Still, there was a lot of goofily athletic stage action (perhaps more than was necessary), but this resulted in a good deal of surprised laughter from the audience. Opening night saw a notable number of youthful attendees, obviously first-timers at Barbiere, who took genuine enjoyment from the non-stop action.

Alek Shrader displayed a well-schooled (very!) facility with the Rossinian style - this helped make up for a tone that lacks the ideal squillo or “ping”, resulting in his being covered at times in ensembles. It was nice that he got to sing his exultant final aria “Cessa di più resistere”, a piece that provides a welcome capping moment to the action. Isabel Leonard is pretty much ideal for the role of Rosina, possessing the requisite voice, looks and oomph. Nathan Gunn was at his charming best as the lively Figaro. If Donato di Stefano went over the top with the mugging assigned to Dr. Bartolo, he did it very well. He sang well, too, as did Burak Bilgili as Don Baslio. Giuliano Carella’s conducting brought out all the verve one expects in this effervescent opera.

The production dates from a quarter of a century ago but looks fresh and vibrant. The concept certainly hasn’t dated. It is owned by Chicago’s Lyric Opera, although that company has moved on to a new production; the notes inform us that the sets were built in Montreal and the costumes made by the Malabar firm in Toronto - such is life under NAFTA.

A note on the house: Dallas Opera was burdened for decades in an inadequate, too-large theatre. The company and its audience obviously relish performances in the five-year-old, 2300-seat Winspear Opera House, a terrific venue.

Michael Johnson



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