Palm Beach Opera continues its 2020 season with a production of Gioachino Rossini’s Il barbieri di Siviglia that combines hilarious staging and comic acting with consistently outstanding music-making. Beginning with the familiar Overture, Chief Conductor David Stern leads a spirited account of the light-hearted score, with orchestra, chorus and cast all in fine form.
The opera’s plot revolves around the efforts of Count Almaviva to rescue Rosina from her oppressive guardian, the lascivious Doctor Bartolo, and to win her hand in marriage. Almaviva is aided by the crafty barber and jack-of-all-trades, Figaro, while Bartolo, who also wishes to marry Rosina, connives with music teacher Don Basilio to thwart the Count and Figaro.
Andrew Manea’s delightful ‘Largo al factotum’ serves to introduce the barber’s many talents, and he excels in Figaro’s duets with Almaviva and Rosina as well as in larger ensembles. As Bartolo, Renato Girolami, who has performed extensively at major opera houses in his native Italy and across Europe, makes his U.S. debut in this production. He brings a deep, resonant voice to the role, and is terrific at rapid-fire patter in ‘A un dottor della mia sorte’.
Taylor Stayton’s Almaviva is a sympathetic romantic lead. His tenor voice has thrilling top notes as he serenades Rosina with ‘Ecco, ridente in cielo’, and when the Count disguises himself in order to inveigle his way into the Bartolo household, Stayton proves to be a first-rate comedic actor. Mezzo-soprano Aleks Romano is a winning Rosina, dashing off florid bel canto passages with apparent ease in her cavatina ‘Una voce poco fa’, and winning laughs for her comic business.
The other cast members also give excellent performances. Timothy Bruno sings Don Basilio’s famous aria ‘La calunnia è un venticello’ with appropriate dynamic shading, from the softness of a gentle breeze to the roar of a cannon. Susan Neves, as Bartolo’s housekeeper Berta, gives a marvelous account of her aria, ‘Il vecchiotto cerca moglie’, observing how foolish it is for old men to seek young wives, and John Tibbetts as Almaviva’s servant Fiorello gets the opera off to a fine start as he organizes the band that accompanies the Count’s serenade of Rosina in the opening scene. In a silent role, Bryan Wohlust is Bartolo’s servant Ambrogio, whose repeated slow shuffles across the stage never fail to draw laughter from the audience.
This production, created and owned by regional opera companies in Washington, D.C., Omaha and Minneapolis, features attractive and effective sets and costumes. Helena Binder’s direction makes the most of the opera’s many hilarious situations, including Rosina trying on shoes that do not fit, Almaviva’s portrayal of a drunken sailor, and Figaro’s shaving of Bartolo, to mention but a few.