This guy Figaro is a real character, and he can do it all. He’s a barber, a matchmaker, a gardener, a fixer, a pharmacist and even a majordomo who personally administers every enema in the household he runs. He’s also the face of L.A. Opera’s current season, which spotlights the Figaro Trilogy — three comic operas based on plays by Pierre Beaumarchais that are connected by the ever quick-witted Figaro.
The Barber of Seville, which opened Saturday, is chronologically first in the trilogy, followed by Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro (coming later this month) and The Guilty Mother (the loose inspiration for John Corigliano and William M. Hoffman’s modern opera The Ghosts of Versailles, which was given a visually lavish production by L.A. Opera last month). Barber is one of the finest examples of the bel-canto style, an especially melodious form of opera in which the singers belt out a cascading series of elaborately beautiful and complicated melodies.
With those melodies, by the ridiculously prolific Italian composer Gioachino Rossini, and an amusing libretto by Cesare Sterbini, Barber has endured as one of the most frequently performed operas since its debut in Rome in 1816. Director Trevore Ross has given Emilio Sagi’s deftly staged production a playfully charming touch at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.
A Spanish count named Almaviva (tenor René Barbera) has fallen in love with a beautiful orphan, Rosina (mezzo-soprano Elizabeth DeShong), but she’s literally locked away in her house by her cruel guardian, Doctor Bartolo (baritone Alessandro Corbelli), who also intends to marry her. Only the strutting street hair stylist Figaro (baritone Rodion Pogossov) knows how to trick Bartolo and potentially free Rosina.
Pogossov portrays Figaro with a Guy Caballero comic verve. On opening night, he and Barbera were dashing and fittingly heroic once their voices warmed up, whereas Corbelli started stronger but lost steam in some of Bartolo’s rat-a-tat phrases. It was DeShong as Rosina who was the most consistently forceful, bursting forth on the intricate bel-canto passages with a rich and powerful but also radiantly lovely tone.
As the sneaky maid Berta, mezzo-soprano Lucy Schaufer beguiled with a poignant, idyllic solo when she wasn’t otherwise spying on the household, stealing silverware and hurling chairs across the stage. Playing the easily corrupted Don Basilio, Kristinn Sigmundsson thundered with a bass voice that was almost as big as his gigantic stature, whereas baritone Jonathan Michie (as Fiorello) cheekily invaded the orchestra pit and briefly took over as conductor.
Meanwhile, the real conductor, James Conlon, made the string section ripple during the famous overture with a decisive yet gracefully fluid rhythm and summoned colors from the woodwinds that were as vibrant as those in Renata Schussheim’s costumes.
L.A. Opera at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, 135 N. Grand Ave., dwntwn.; Sun., March 8; Wed., March 11; Sat., March 14; Thurs., March 19; and Sun., March 22; $20-$276. (213) 972-8001, laopera.org.
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