The Opera Company of Middlebury chose for its sixth production Rossini's perennial favorite, The Barber of Seville. Accustomed as I am to the ingenious staging by Douglas Anderson, artistic director of the company, I always look forward to the production.
This time was no exception, even if it wasn't as seamless as, say, A Little Night Music. When it worked, however, at the performance on Friday night, June 5, it was delightful to be seen and the stage business enhanced the performance in general.
The fact that Anderson works with young singers may be part of the success of the vigor of past productions. It certainly was a general attribute shared by the singers in this production. By choosing young singers, however, the chance for jitters and their impact on the singing increases. Of the three acts, the third showed the greatest comedic comprehension on the part of the singers, as well as showing the singers'voices off to their best advantage.
Insofar as the casting was concerned, the baritone and the basses in the cast displayed the most evidence of good solid technique paired with a willingness to take dramatic risks. Nathan Wentworth was a dive-into-the-wool Figaro, allowing himself to ad lib. several bits of stage business during the crescendo finale of the second act. He seemed very comfortable, although I'm sure he's more comfortable in Mozart's setting of the second Beaumarchais play in his Figaro trilogy. Stephanos Tsirakoglou did very well indeed with the role of Dr. Bartolo, and he gave some dignity and humanity to his characterization. Peter Campbell sang Basilio in a very dark bass voice, and he handled the comedy routine with aplomb. Stephen Lavonier made a distinctly positive impression as Fiorello.
Jonathan Blalock was the Count Almaviva, and he handled the greatly demanding part with a mixture of finesse -- most of act three -- and inexperience. His handling of fioriture left a great deal to be desired, and yet he brought some stagecraft with him also. Giliana Austin was Berta, and she handled herself well.
Meridith Ziegler was a pert and attractive young mezzo. She handled the fioriture with some freedom, and she is a fairly accomplished actress. She made a generally good impression.
Mark Shapiro, even though he was working with musicians from the Burlington Chamber Orchestra, kept the music going but infrequently but noticeably did not establish tempi in advance. It took a few minutes for the orchestra to establish itself, but once it did, they did a yeoman's job with the music.
In sum: gauging by the audience response, this was a stellar production of the work; gauging by the old curmudgeonly reviewer, this was the production that needed more rehearsal, both of the music at this stage business, because, with regard to music, it would have been nice if they could have handled the fioriture without having to mark down beats by stamping their collective foot on the downbeats
There is a final performance June 11 at 8 p.m. in the Town Hall Theater, Middlebury.
Burlington resident Dan Wolfe observes and critiques the local arts scene for The Eagle. His column appears weekly.