Boston Lyric Opera pulls out most of the stops in Rossini’s knock about comic opera, THE BARBER OF SEVILLE, parading through Oct. 21st @ Emerson Cutler Majestic. Director Rosetta Cucchi (and scenic designer Julia Noulin-Mérat) have imagined a set inspired by M.C. Escher with endless stairways, some going nowhere. Certainly, mistaken avenues and mistaken identities pepper the (Beaumarchais) story. Precautions prove useless (as in Rossini’s first title for the opera) as a lecherous old doctor tries to outwit a dashing count in pursuit of a beauty.
The “beauty” is mezzo-soprano Daniela Mack, as Rosina, who delivers a triumphant Una Voce Poco Fa, as Rossini wrote it, in the original key! We know everything we need to know from that aria: She can be sweet if she wants, but do not cross her or you will feel her wrath. Her gorgeous top notes are surpassed only by her astonishing, comic low notes. Equaling her prowess and power is tenor Jesus Garcia as the count. Their playful duets propel the comedy forward. (The speed of the music has to match the speed of the farce and music director David Angus keeps the momentum apace.)
Act I by itself is a wonder, with Matthew Worth’s brash Largo Al Factotum to “humbly” introduce himself as the “barber of quality,” with Rosina’s spectacular aria, Figaro’s driving duet with the count, Steven Condy’s hilarious Doctor Bartolo, a wild sextet to end the act and, best of all, David Crawford’s lashing, scene stealing turn as Don Basilio: Looking like one of the Munsters, walking like a peacock who is having difficulty unfurling his tail, Crawford makes the schemer irresistible. His La Calunnia, to my mind, is the highlight of the opera.
For BARBER veterans, little unexpected touches are a delight, as long as they don’t change the narrative or the music. Case in point, Don Basilio’s slightly sado-masochistic bent and his misinterpretation in Act II of the endless farewells. It’s extremely clever to have him return because he wants to be polite… And Rosina’s personal tempest for the orchestral storm… And Dr. Bartolo’s headphones: so silly but effective in keeping him occupied while the lovers plot their elopement. (A few of the comic bits seemed cringe worthy to me but they got lots of laughs.)
I wish director Cucchi and company had embraced the ‘useless stairway’ conceit to its full extent, mining humor from foiled exits but I only noticed one false comic departure (Don Basilio’s) and it didn’t involve a stairway at all. Dr. Bartolo trouped endlessly up and down the same flight but mostly, the Escher effect itself went nowhere except to separate characters who are ordinarily in the same room (Dr. Bartolo eyeing the furtive lovers at the piano). I did love Rosina’s frustration, however, when neither the count nor the doctor paid her any attention in the music lesson.
See this BARBER for the lovely voices and the ingenious flourishes, both vocal and dramatic.