The Return Of Rossini's The Barber Of Seville
The ever-popular classic production continues to delight and captivate audiences at Civic Opera House
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Figaro spies on Dr. Bartolo (Alessandro Corbelli) and Don Basilio (Krzysztof Bączyk), and (below) Count Almaviva and Rosina finally embrace.
Count Almaviva (Lawrence Brownlee) and Rosina (Marianne Crebassa) struggle to connect under the watch eye of Figaro (Adam Plachetka).
IT is a story that has been performed many times by many casts in many parts of the world, and it continues to delight, enchant and enthrall audiences who have fallen in love with The Barber of Seville. But there’s something even more special about it when it’s a Lyric Opera of Chicago production, especially when it kicks off Lyric’s 65th season. More than a show, it was a night of jubilation, a celebration complete with red-carpet arrivals and a $500-a ticket after-show gala.
With multiple events surrounding the premiere of Lyric’s 2019/20 season, the memorable night was entertainingly highlighted by Rossini’s classic comic masterpiece, which premiered in 1816 and still generates infectious laughter from opera audiences. The Barber of Seville focuses on Figaro, a barber by day and a go-between at night for a price, who helps Count Almaviva in his determined effort to win the heart of Rosina. The young, vibrant, rich ward of Dr. Bartolo desperately wants to distance herself from her old, pompous and somewhat lecherous guardian who himself wants her hand in marriage. The laughter begins almost immediately as Figaro and the Count concoct an ambitious plan to give him every advantage to somehow remove Rosina from the clutches of her guardian and win the love of his life for himself. Despite the challenges, the Count relied on one strong belief for inspiration: “When a heart’s bright with passion, nothing douses the flame.”
Although Lyric’s latest production, continuing through October 27, is characterized by its humor, not to be overlooked are the strong voices that are the signature of any opera. Thanks to a delicate balance between comedy and the captivating songs, a pleasing outcome was achieved while exhibiting the compelling voices. Leading the collection of spectacularly accomplished singers is Czech bass-baritone Adam Plachetka, a world-renowned opera favorite who returned to Lyric as Figaro, a clever character whose ingenious plots are inspired by Count Almaviva’s gold. American tenor Lawrence Brownlee, who previously appeared at Lyric in Bellini’s I puritani, is one of the best as a Rossini interpreter, and his skills as a vocalist and comic are top-notch as Count Almaviva, one of Brownlee’s most-noted roles internationally. French mezzo-soprano Marianne Crebassa, who previously performed in Lyric productions, Romeo and Juliet and Così fan tutte, lit up the stage with her enticing voice and innocence. She spent much of her time frantically trying to keep her distance from her guardian, Dr. Bartolo, Italian baritone Alessandro Corbelli, internationally acclaimed for his body of work, including this role, where, despite his age, he considers himself a true ladies’ man. Adding to the fun on stage is Polish bass Krzysztof Bączyk, making his Lyric debut as Rosina’s scheming music teacher and Dr. Bartolo’s extra set of eyes.
Throughout the production, directed by Rob Ashford, multitalented members of the ensemble, including Mathilda Edge, who made her company debut as Berta, and Christopher Kenney, Eric Ferring and Jon Beal fit in perfectly while performing important tasks. Additionally, the men of the Lyric Opera Chorus were cast in the role of soldiers who appeared in various scenes.
As essential as the spirited performances are to the production, the expertise of longtime Lyric music director Sir Andrew Davis is just as important as he continues to shape the music from the Lyric Opera Orchestra and Chorus––a stint that will end following the 2020-21 season. Further enhancing the show are the talents of a team of Tony Award-winners and nominees, including Scott Pask, who created engaging, transitioning sets; Catherine Zuber, who outfitted actors in period-perfect costumes; and Howard Harrison, who artfully displayed varying degrees of background colors in orange, yellow and red.
The effective collaboration among an abundance of talent––on and off the stage––has resulted in a celebrated production that delivers an enduring message of love. Even with its comic overtones, in the end, The Barber of Seville is about romance and the limits one is willing to go to achieve it. Perhaps one line in the show not only sums up the overall picture best, but it also offers some hope: “May love and faith eternal prevail in every heart.”
Photographs by Todd Rosenberg
For more information and tickets, go to www.lyricopera.org.