by Giacomo Rossini
Jeffrey Brody – musical director, J. Scott Brumit – stage director
presented by Longwood Opera
Fully staged, in English
Christ Episcopal Church
1132 Highland Ave.
Friday, November 2, 8 PM and Sunday, November 4, 2:30 PM
Longwood Opera Facebook Page
Review by Kitty Drexel
(Needham)The Barber of Seville was made famous in popular culture by the Bugs Bunny cartoon, “The Rabbit of Seville,” in which Bugs violently shaves a reluctant Elmer Fudd. The beautiful music by Giacomo Rossini could charm the pants off of anyone with ears. It is the timeless warmth and wit of Rossini’s opera that would bring you to watch Longwood Opera’s production of Barber but it is the individual performances of the cast that would keep you in your seat.
This production is presented in English with some arias sung in Italian. There are no supertitles but, as the English diction from all vocalists is exceptional, supertitles aren’t necessary. The cast is greatly reduced with only the main players being represented. The chorus has been eliminated. The cast is accompanied by piano only; it a shame as the full orchestration isn’t done justice by one instrument alone.
How do buffoonish men like Dr. Bartolo (Tom Weber) become the legal guardians of precocious women like Rosina (the aptly named Roselin Osser)? It is absurd that an old fool like Bartolo should chaperone the beautiful Rosina. Even more strange, he expects her to marry him without argument, as if she could be easily persuaded. Figaro (James Lambert) and Count Almaviva/Lindoro (Omar Najmi) seem equally as puzzled.
Weber is appropriately sketchy as Bartolo to Osser’s Rosina. He is a marvelous cuckold as the cast manipulates him into relinquishing his hold on Rosina. Lambert presents Figaro as the Sassy Gay Friend™ of his day, having solutions to all predicaments that pop up and armed with a voice smooth as chocolate silk. Lambert is a suitable mentor of wit to Nahmi who looks about 15 years old until he sings. Najmi appears Count-like in his arias but is otherwise embodies the youthful music-student Lindoro in his onstage antics. He has the voice to sing Almaviva but not yet the acting chops.
Above all, Osser is the voice to hear and the actor to watch. When she stepped onto the stage for her first aria, the audience held its breath. She has admirable control over an audience as well as a lovely instrument.
The cast attains professional levels of performance with their voices but the sometimes lackluster acting skills diminish the visual picture created on the stage. The individual arias could stand alone as exquisite solo performances but the recit. and ensemble numbers lack the energy to drive the opera as a larger piece. The stage direction of J. Scott Brumit is sometimes spunky but the uplifted moments in the performance have more to do with novelty than with creativity. With the exception of Miles Rind as Don Basilio and Osser, the cast largely doesn’t know what to do with their hands when they stand still. Seeing them do choreography is a remarkable contrast to their flimsy gesturing. It makes watching the sequences between arias difficult to endure. In such a sparse production, it might have been best to produce a concert version with reduced staging instead.