Sarasota Opera serves up rollicking Rossini with an inspired “Barber”

March 10, 2014
Hak Soo KIm and Chrystal E. Williams in Sarasota Opera's "Barber of Seville." Photo: Rod Millington

Hak Soo KIm and Chrystal E. Williams in Sarasota Opera’s “Barber of Seville.” Photo: Rod Millington

For a work as popular as Il barbiere di Siviglia, it’s striking how rarely this opera comes off successfully. Singers need to not only tackle Rossini’s music with tonal elegance and polished technique but also bring some real comic ability to the table. Likewise, getting the music right in the pit can be a challenge for conductors and too often stage directors equate frantic running around with Rossinian wit.

Unlike the previous evening’s Flying Dutchman, which felt miniaturized vocally and otherwise, Sarasota Opera’s Barber of Seville proved ideally suited to the scale of the house. Indeed, Friday’s enjoyable matinee produced one of the company’s most inspired shows of recent seasons, vocally superb, genuinely funny and often hilarious.

Much of the credit must go to director William Gustafson, who came up with consistently creative comic stage business that came out of the characters and situations rather than relying on mere silliness and hoary slapstick.

Marco Nistico has more often tackled serious Verdi roles for Sarasota, but the Italian baritone showed an inspired off-center comic touch as the wily Figaro, throwing off a worthy “Largo al factotum” and always vocally at ease in the fast ensembles.

Chrystal E. Williams made a most impressive Sarasota debut as Rosina. The young mezzo-soprano possesses a creamy instrument with fine flexibility, throwing off a confident “Una voce poco fa.” She also handled the comedy with flair and sailed through the coloratura flights with style and assurance.

Company regular Hak Soo Kim was an excellent Almaviva, dispatching his Act 1 arias with vibrant tone and bel canto elegance. Giving the character his final showpiece arias can slow up the action near the end needlessly. Yet the Korean tenor made these a delightful bonus, delivering a dazzling seminar in Rossini style with effortless top notes and remarkable dexterity in the high-flying roulades. Kim also showed comic panache in the Count’s various masquerades, especially as annoyingly redundant music teacher.

Steven Condy was a worthy comic foil as the blustery Bartolo, hilarious in his “castrato aria.” The baritone threw off the tongue-twisting buffo patter with ease if at an almost inaudible volume. Matthew Burns was consistently funny as Basilio, delivering a sturdy “La Calumnia.”

Two Studio Artists filled out the comic comprimario roles. Alexandra Batsios was a wonderful, big-voiced Berta, delivering the maid’s Act 2 aria with relish. George Ross Somerville was equally amusing as the narcoleptic Ambrogio. Keith Brown was a capable Fiorello.

Jeffrey W. Dean’s picturesque scenic design and Howard Tsvi Kaplan’s colorful costumes added to the afternoon’s pleasures.

Marcello Cormio made a notable conducting debut. After a rough-hewn overture, the young Italian drew vital and spirited playing, with the fizzing ensembles exciting yet with a fine balancing of solo voices, chorus and orchestra.

There are two more performances of Barber of Seville March 15 and March 21.

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