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Review: Singers take wing in 'Barber'

January 25, 2009

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    January 25, 2009
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    Opera Carolina News

Review: Singers take wing in 'Barber'

If there's one thing "The Barber of Seville" has to have, it's speed. The romance and fun of Rossini's comedy depend on singers with agile vocal cords.

As a young nobleman serenades the woman he loves, his feelings well up in a cascade of melody and filigree. When Figaro comes along to assist the wooing, his music shares the velocity of his scheming mind. The object of the count's affection, Rosina, lets fly with vocal pyrotechnics to tell us that she won't let anyone come between her and what she wants.

Orchestras that can set the pace for Rossini's mirth are fairly common. But singers? Finding them is no laughing matter. Yet Opera Carolina has come up with three to go at the center of its staging of "Barber," which opened Saturday night. Their air of youth and vitality runs through the whole show.

Tenor Victor Ryan Robertson, as Count Almaviva, set the tone Saturday with the gleam, clarity and pizazz he gave his serenade. Ryan Taylor sang exuberantly in Figaro's famous entrance number, yet it was only after Figaro took charge of the count's budding romance that Taylor really took off. He sang distinctly and vigorously in several spots where most baritones can only make their voices swoop.

Other mezzo-sopranos have given Rosina more oomph than Adriana Zabala, whose voice is light. Yet Zabala's Rosina had a sparkle and charm of her own. She complemented Robertson's and Taylor's impact, rather than sharing it.

Like most stage directors, Greg Fortner kept sight gags and shtick coming fast. Not all of it was fresh or effective, but a few bits were. He certainly spiced up a moment in which Figaro plants himself between Rosina and Dr. Bartolo - her aged but eager guardian, who wants to marry her.

Bartolo made a worthy nemesis for Figaro and company, thanks to bass Peter Strummer. Strummer's voice was a little worn - not inappropriately for an old-timer like Bartolo - but it still put over Bartolo's pomposity and befuddlement. Strummer's plump face amplified his every mood. As Bartolo's co-conspirator, Don Basilio, bass William Roberts was short on resonance - quite a loss for a character whose aria peaks by invoking cannon shots. But he at least cut an oily, conniving figure.

On the podium, Tyrone Paterson sometimes had only a loose grip on things. Aside from the occasional blur, though, he drew a brisk performance from a reduced-size contingent of the Charlotte Symphony. Light though Rossini needs to be, the group was probably a little too reduced: The storm that kicks up in Act 2 was roughly on the scale of the blizzard that struck Charlotte last week. But the orchestra shared the singers' velocity. That's what counts.

The Barber of Seville

Opera Carolina presents Gioacchino Rossini's comedy about a barber who enables romance to blossom. Sung in Italian with translations in English.

When: 2 p.m. Jan. 25, 7:30 p.m. Jan. 29 and 8 p.m. Jan. 31.

Where: Belk Theater, Blumenthal Performing Arts Center, 130 N. Tryon St.

Tickets: $16-$125.

Details: 704-372-1000; www.operacarolina.org.

By Steven Brown