Figaro had a life before he got married, you know. He was the kind of man that men wanted to be and that ladies wanted to be with – a barber to the stars, if you will, roaming around Seville singing his own praises. In Rossini’s The Barber of Seville, on now at LA Opera, Figaro happens upon Count Almaviva who’s cleverness has been trumped only by his hopeless love for Rosina, who is the ward of the tyrannical Doctor Bartolo. Almaviva convinces Figaro, with the promise of “gold in abundance” to help him win his heart’s affection.
What follows is a phenomenally witty opera filled with comic nuances that are only enhanced by this production’s stellar cast. Nathan Gunn returns to LA Opera as the arrogant, but not without reason, Figaro – his polka dot vest and coiffed brown locks both proof of his status as premiere “barihunk.” Renowned tenor Juan Diego Florez makes his LA Opera debut as the love-struck, earnest Count Almaviva. These two have a George-Clooney-and-Brad-Pitt-in-Ocean’s-Eleven dynamic right from the start; their planning and plotting makes for fantastic comic fodder and both men go far beyond impressing the audience with their abundant solos. Where Gunn’s clear, skillful baritone strikes just the right note in Act I’s “Largo al Factotum,” Florez’ sweet songs in Act II captivated and held the audience with his strong and multifaceted voice.
It’s quite clear why Florez’ Count Almaviva is so enamored with Rosina. Played by Joyce DiDonato, it almost seemed like the audience wanted to clamor up on stage and serenade her themselves. When she sang, I believe no one in the audience could even fidget – she has such control over her voice that her girly, giggling, and somehow manipulative character still left room to hear a masterful performance. The three of them together, Florez, Gunn, and DiDonato, make for a powerful trio – their wily chemistry on stage was not only hysterical, but beautiful.
The rest of the cast is certainly not to be overlooked. The genius of Don Basilio, played by the overwhelmingly large and deep voiced Andrea Silvestrelli, is matched perfectly with the bumbling, gullible, and simply cruel Doctor Bartolo, played by Bruno Pratico. Both of their voices are suited so well to their roles it’s hard to imagine them playing anyone else.
I can’t say enough about the set design – it starts out in an entirely white and black palate only to be transformed in the second act to a striking (and typical to Seville) set of fantastic colors. And that includes the costumes – Florez’ all hot pink suit at the end of Act II is nothing short of a miracle. From the Overture, you may be surprised as to how recognizable this music is – if you’ve never listened to The Barber of Seville on purpose, you definitely have without knowing it. And it’s always an added treat to attend the opera when you’re familiar with the music.
I only wish there was a more eloquent way of saying: see this opera. Doesn’t matter where you sit, just go.
The Barber of Seville is playing at LA Opera through December 19, 2009. Please call (213) 972-8001 or click here for more information.