“The Barber of Seville” has been seen somewhere every year since its initial production almost 200 years ago. A light spirit and beautiful music that wafts through your mind long after you have left the theater make it easy to see why. You have heard of painless dentistry? “Barber,” reportedly conductor Conlon’s favorite opera, is definitely better; it entertains and makes few demands for allegorical or moral interpretation. Director Trevore Ross has taken to heart a build-it-lighter-and-they-will-come mantra adding froth on top of charm at every opportunity. A little too much froth and exaggerated charm for my taste, though the voices of Elizabeth DeShong, René Barbera, and Kristinn Sigmundsson almost erase generalized criticism.
“The Barber of Seville” is Chapter III in LA Opera’s current exploration of the Figaro story. Figaro (Rodion Pogossov), the conniving barber, plots with dashing Count Almaviva (René Barbera) to wrest away young Rosina (Elizabeth DeShong), ward of the equally conniving but not quite so clever Doctor Bartolo (Alessandro Corbelli). Almaviva intends to marry her. The opportunities for glorious arias, clever asides, and lightening fast recitative are many; most of the cast is up to the task.
This Teatro Real Madrid/Teatro Nacional de São Carlos of Lisbon production places the action at a stylized but indeterminate time. The street in Seville is suggested by a collection of white sonotubes and flats with black details; slender dancers clad in black and white must wrestle them into place, moving the heavy elements around the stage when the action moves indoors — and sometimes, it seems, simply when the director thinks more action would be nice. The black-and-white theme is carried effectively through much of the production until a very satisfying, explosive, colorful finale. However, Nuria Castejón’s choreography focuses more on pushing scenery than interesting dance. Renata Schussheim’s costuming also falls short. Her puffy short sleeves and black, black hair do not send the message that Rosina is young, despite DeShong’s able conjuring of the girl’s adolescent tempers.
Let us get to the meat of the performance. Meat there is. Full-voiced mezzo DeShong and tenor Barbera are well matched and a delight to listen to. Bass Kristinn Sigmundsson’s is a perfect accent. Sadly, Rodion Pogossov falls somewhat short of the swashbuckling Figaros previously seen on the LA Opera stage. James Conlon holds forth from the pit as always supporting the singers, not competing with them.
The excess froth did not seem to offend the opening night audience who laughed and clapped and cheered. This is LA Opera’s second use of this production. Perhaps it is time to scout another. Rossini’s material will always be a crowd-pleaser. A less self-conscious production can only improve upon the experience.