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Performances

Adam Plachetka, Marianne Crebassa, and Lawrence Brownlee [Photo © Todd Rosenberg courtesy of Lyric Opera of Chicago]
09 Oct 2019

Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia at Lyric Opera of Chicago

With a charmingly detailed revival of Gioachino Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia Lyric Opera of Chicago has opened its 2019-2020 season. The company has assembled a cast clearly well-schooled in the craft of stage movement, the action tumbling with lively motion throughout individual solo numbers and ensembles.

Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia at Lyric Opera of Chicago

A review by Salvatore Calomino

Above: Adam Plachetka, Marianne Crebassa, and Lawrence Brownlee [Photo © Todd Rosenberg courtesy of Lyric Opera of Chicago]

 

The role of the wily Rosina, ward of Doctor Bartolo, is sung by Marianne Crebassa. Her suitor Lindoro, or Count Almaviva, is performed by Lawrence Brownlee. Bartolo is Alessandro Corbelli, and the music master Don Basilio is sung by Krzysztof Baczyk. The barber Figaro is Adam Plachetka. The roles of the domestic Berta and Almaviva’s helper Fiorello are sung by Mathilda Edge and Christopher Kenney. Sir Andrew Davis conducts the Lyric Opera Orchestra and Michael Black has prepared the Lyric Opera Chorus. The original production is by Rob Ashford and the revival director is Tara Faircloth. The set designer is Scott Pask and the lighting design is by Howard Harrison. Ms. Edge and Mr. Baczyk make their house debuts in these performances.

During the overture, led by Davis with varying tempi in keeping with the changeable stage action to follow, a tawny yellow scrim covers the stage. Stylized sketches of the Count and Rosina facing each other on this scrim are flanked by a faceless form bearing a wig and positioned as though in watchful proximity. As the scrim lifts an outdoor scene represents the darkened streets of Seville. Although the lighting at this point in the performance indicates a nocturnal scene, rotating elements of the stage and a judicious use of lighting will subsequently transform the stage into an interior setting. For now the Count’s men led by Fiorello appear beneath the balcony of Dr. Bartolo’s house. Group movements are humorously staged, and blocking sets the men in comical tandem with motivic shifts in the orchestra Count Almaviva’s entrance and ardent serenade of the beloved Rosina does not minimize but rather enhances the humorous movements of the supporting group. AS Almaviva Mr. Brownlee delivers a meltingly heartfelt performance of “Ecco ridente.” The plaintive, touchingly decorated line in the first part of the aria is expanded into daringly accurate runs and exciting top notes in the conclusion of the piece. At the sound of others approaching the outdoor scene empties and is immediately transformed into the barber’s public domain. Mr. Plachetka’s Figaro is athletic, both in physical movement and vocal projection. In his solo aria, ”Largo al factotum,” Plachetka negotiates leaps and hurdles on the stage while at once soaring to top pitches with equivalent ease. His breath control yielded a final, sustained pitch of remarkable evenness. Plachetka’s agility in coloratura line is noted only in the following duet with Almaviva, who returns for a conspiratorial duet outdoors with the barber. In this scene Brownlee’s glittering and rapid runs, punctuated with fervent top pitches, are matched by Plachetka’s simultaneous line, sung with comparable decoration. The plan between the two is made.

Lighting and rotation reveal an instant transformation for the balance of the act into the home of Dr. Bartolo. In her reaction to the sound of Lindoro’s voice from without Rosina sings “Una voce poco fa.” Crebassa’s approach to this well-known number illustrates a strategic use of vocal color. Her extension of low notes is particularly strong so that her downward runs in this aria elicit a rich, full sound; since the voice tends to grow thinner at the top, Crebassa accents individual phrases so that meaning is enhanced by an alternate projection. In a further male progression of planing and advice, now inside the house, Dr. Bartolo and Don Basilio discuss plans for Rosina and the matter of Almaviva’s reputation. Mr. Corbelli has so frequently identified with this role internationally that his singing seems equivalent to an extension of the character’s speech-patterns and bodily movements. Mr. Baczyk’s Don Basilio leaves an appropriately surly impression, yet more importantly he sings with a full palette of expressive color and technique. In the first part of “La calumnia” rubato phrasing is cleverly tucked into decorated lines, while the rapid tempo and forte pitches of the second part capture the threat imposed in the text of the aria. The menacing flourish executed by the music-master with his cape was conceived perhaps as an emphatic gesture with a comic self-assuredness, yet Baczyk’s vocal performance alone communicates this tone with decided elegance. The finale to the first act is populated with frenetic singing and motion, interrupted by lyrical, repeated phrases and the arrival of the municipal police. Brownlee feigns inebriation believably and lends discreet correction to bring this ensemble to a close.

In Act Two the music lesson and its aftermath are staged to emphasize the growing zeal in the attraction felt by the young lovers while Dr. Bartolo continues to snooze in his adjacent chair. The staging is here especially laden with humor” Brownlee is dressed as a slighter Don Basilio, sporting cape and mortarboard, while Crebassa’s florid aria os punctuated with Dr. Bartolo’s resonant snores. Before he awakens to deliver his own idea of musical form, the lovers have at least initiated plans fir subsequent meeting. Berta’s commentary on the tumult in the household shows Ms. Edge singing a flexible line with assured pitch and graceful transitions. Despite Plachetka’s urgently expressive attempts to coax the lovers to leave, the sober logic of action does not interrupt their Romantic duet of revealed identity, as here lovingly performed. Caught as they are by such multiple vocal delays, Dr. Bartolo insists that the authorities should intervene. The moment prompts Almaviva to sing “Cessa di piu resistere,” easily the most exciting vocal display of the performance. Brownlee excels in this type of writing with a wide range of decoration, rapidly accelerating runs, rubato and sudden shifts in tempo, as well as the opportunity to include individualized notes as here. The aria brought a volley of approval from the audience and led to the final ensemble of this happy production.

Salvatore Calomino

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