Fort Worth — The pattern for the Fort Worth Opera’s festival format features new and experimental operas and one very well known opera from the standard repertoire. This season, that mainstay is Rossini’s comic opera The Barber of Seville. Currently playing at Bass Hall, this clever and witty opera is given an equally clever and witty production. Rossini’s opera, written more than 200 years ago, always feels fresh and none of its comedy appears to be dated. In fact, it frequently ranks in the top 10 list of most performed operas internationally, as prepared by operabase.com.
As seen on Friday evening, conductor Joe Illick leads an outstanding cast and a perky Fort Worth Symphony in music that is paced quite fast, in general. In fact, some of the very quick patter arias are probably at maximum speed, although the singers manage to spit out the words. The quick tempi and David Gately’s busy slapstick staging keep the show moving at a breakneck speed—and the laughs keep coming.
This is Figaro’s show and the FWO wisely cast baritone Joo Won Kang, one of the top winners in the company’s 2014 McCammon Voice Competition, in the role. Gately makes him more than the usual lovable rascal. Figaro is also the stage manager, able to freeze the action with a snap of the fingers or move everything into slow motion. He turns in a stellar performance.
Figaro’s job is to get the local potentate, Count Almaviva, married off to Rosina, the ward of Bartolo, a local doctor of a certain age, who wants her for himself. When first meet Almaviva, he is in disguise, so he can woo her without revealing his title. He is serenading Rosina with a ragtag group of musicians. Lyric tenor Andrew Stenson is excellent in the role. None of the passagework in the first aria, which has bedeviled many a tenor, poses a problem for him. He even tosses in a clear trill or two.
The role of Rosina was originally written for a contralto, although voices of all types sing it (with some transpositions, of course). The American soprano Beverly Sills had a triumph in the role. In the FWO production, the role is sung by mezzo-soprano Megan Marino. She easily tosses off Rossini’s florid music with both clarity and velocity. She portrays the role of a young and willful girl, although her dowdy costumes work against her.
Bass-baritone Kyle Albertson is an appropriately pompous Bartolo. His performance of a notoriously fast patter song is impressive, especially at Illick’s tempo. Bass-baritone Tyler Simpson is hysterical as the kleptomaniac music teacher, Basilio, stuffing everything from a candelabra to a rifle in his seemingly bottomless pockets.
Soprano Maren Weinberger as the housekeeper Berta blossoms from crotchety old hag in the beginning to a lusty lady later on. Her aria, usually cut, is a delight. As her love interest, the ancient Ambrigio, Doug Jackson turns into quite a spry old man when properly stimulated. Otherwise, he is deaf as a can of beans, in spite of his ear horn. One begins to suspect that his bad hearing is selective.
Scenic designer John Stoddart and lighting designer Chad R. Jung give Bartolo’s house two levels, both inside and out, and the architecture was vaguely Spanish. The set resembles an opened cutout picture book. It rotates to move from inside to outside and two distinct rooms. It reflects Bartolo’s status as well-off, but not one of the really rich.
Some may think that this production plays the masterpiece opera for obvious laughs, Hello? It is a comedy, so why not? Further, Gately isn’t afraid to use comic devices derived from the greats of our era: from Chaplin to Lucy. Vaudevillian slapstick is in his arsenal, even a pratfall, but so is in the slow double take, running gags, as well as something as subtle as a mere glance.
His use of slow motion for the finale of act one is an inspired choice. Here, we have about 10 minutes of music during which chaos is supposed to reign supreme on the stage. Filling that time is always a problem and so much is usually going on that the audience can’t take it all in. However, in slow-mo, we see all of the clever bits Gaetly works into what turns out to be a bar room brawl. The audience erupts in laughter at each of the outrageous goings-on in Bartolo’s living room.
This is a delightful production. Try to catch the last performance at the Sunday matinee.