On a rainy, windy Miami night, Florida Grand Opera provided an antidote to the lousy weather, opening its 75th anniversary season with an entertaining production of Rossini’s indestructible opera buffa The Barber of Seville at the Arsht Center.
The performance was preceded by the playing of La Marseillaise in tribute to the people of France and the victims of the previous day’s tragic events.
Dennis Garnhum’s production was not exactly the opera Rossini conceived, much less the play of Pierre Beaumarchais on which it is based. The director has set the work in 1940s Seville at Bartolo Studios, where Dr. Bartolo is the studio boss and the young and vivacious Rosina is his employee rather than his ward. He has made her a star and imprisoned her in his apartment above the sound stage. The barber and jack of all trades Figaro works part-time at the studio, shaving and cutting the hair of actors and crew.
At times, particularly in the second act, the production veers into over-busy sitcom antics, but Allan Stichbury’s film set is an eye-filling backdrop. If not exactly the epitome of classic comic opera or French farce, Garnhum’s modernist reboot makes a good show. But why do directors feel they must choreograph overtures? Garnhum’s pantomime of life on a movie set only detracts from the wit and instrumental subtleties of Rossini’s music.
Musically this may not be a Barber for the ages, but there is some solid singing and stylish conducting by Ramon Tebar.
Megan Marino is a spitfire of a Rosina, a strong-willed actress who stands up to her scheming boss, his guards and co-conspirators. Attired in glamorous gowns by Howard Tsvi Kaplan, she plays a star besieged by autograph seekers. With an ample mezzo voice that easily fills the house, she fires off gleaming coloratura, adding some of her own ornaments along the way. Marino is a natural comedienne, bringing split-second timing to her scenes with Bartolo, and she proved particularly delightful in the concluding ensemble of Act I, her mock puppetry captured in strobe lighting.
Andrew Owens, the evening’s Count Almaviva, was announced as being ill but bravely soldiered on, giving a more-than-creditable performance. He cut a handsome figure as the amorous count and displayed an appealing lyric tenor in Ecco ridente, although he seemed to tire in the second act.
David Pershall brought movie-star charisma and lots of personality to Figaro. His baritone is on the light side, but he ably navigated the twists and turns of Largo al factotum. Pershall proved strong in the ensembles but was less effective in his duets with Rosina and Almaviva.
As Bartolo, Kevin Short was often hilarious, but he was not a stock buffoon. His stentorian declamation, low bass notes and ease in rapid fire patter was particularly effective in Bartolo’s aria, which he imbued with mean vehemence.
Alex Soare was a slimy Don Basilio, but his vibrato-heavy voice lacked the deep low notes for La Calunnia. Eliza Bonet seemed a soubrette in the making, singing Berta’s aria with winning charm. Nicholas Ward’s Fiorelo and Zachary Elmassian’s Officer were standouts in cameo roles.
Tebar’s conducting was enlivening, always keeping the ensemble lines clean and precise while remaining unobtrusive. The overture was well played, the orchestra sounding bright and engaged.
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What: Florida Grand Opera production of Rossini’s ‘The Barber of Seville,’ with same cast performing Friday; Hilary Ginther, Brian James Myer and Kevin Glavin sing in other performances.
Where: Ziff Ballet Opera House at the Arsht Center, 1300 Biscayne Blvd., Miami, through Saturday; at Broward Center for the Performing Arts, 201 SW Fifth Ave., Fort Lauderdale, Dec. 3 and Dec. 5.
When: Miami performances 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday; Fort Lauderdale performances 7:30 p.m. Dec. 3 and Dec. 5.
Cost: $12-$225 in Miami, $21-$200 in Fort Lauderdale.
Information: 800-741-1010 or www.fgo.org.