On Sunday, April 29th, Milwaukee's Florentine Opera Company presented a very fine production of "The Barber of Seville," by Gaiocchino Rossini. "Barber"is one of those shows that the experienced opera goer may wince when we see it on the season program, since it is one of the most performed operas in the world, along with "La Boheme," "Marriage of Figaro," "Tosca," "La Traviata," and "Madama Butterfly." Enjoyable as all these are, one mostly goes hpoing to see something a bit new and different. Fortunatly, this "Barber" did not disappoint. What particularly enlivened this show was some exceptional casting. Brian Downen, as Count Amalviva, is a lighter tenor, which requires him to actually act to get his part across, which is a welcome departure from many Amalvivas who are content to let Figaro do the clowning while they concentrate on singing and looking gorgeous. Not so say that Downen was not a fine singer--he was. The typical Rosina, in my experience, tends to be small, blond, china-doll pretty, and a pure soprano. Jennifer Rivera is taller, red-haired, striking, and a mezzo-soprano. Her darker tone added a very interesting maturity to the role which is often played as though fifteen and girlish. Rivera's Rosina was much more forceful and mature woman, which adds a lot of "bite" to her "I'll be a viper" aria, in which she describes her temper if her desires are thwarted. Having a more subtle Amalviva and a more powerful Rosina put their courtship on a much more equal level. Rosina was a woman chafing under her guardian's rule who knows her own mind, as opposed to the green girl dazzled by the worldly Amalviva.
The plot was driven by Daniel Belcher as Figaro, and played him finely as the dandy barbers were often supposed to be. Kevin Glavin filled out the major roles as the suspicious Doctor Bartolo excellently well. Critics accused Kurt Link, who played Doctor Basilio, of chewing the scenery overly much, but it is a clown role, and we thought the scenes were chewed just enough.
Fine voices all around, good costumes, a very cleverly designed set, and mostly clever staging all contributed to an excellent performance. Quibbles: I have seen the "like a statue" scene done better: I didn't find this version very clever. The orchestra, conducted by Christopher Larkin, was note-perfect, but was a bit loud in the first act, and somewhat drowned out Belcher in the famous "Figaro" song.
All in all , we must say that the Florentine continues to put on really fine opera, and I think them to be the equal of any major regional company in what they do. Next season is actually comparatively free of grand opera warhorses, being made up of "The Merry Widow," "Salome," and "Romeo and Juliet" by Bellini. Looks like fun.