Reviewed by Gail M. Burns, July, 1999
Once again I offer my disclaimer that I am not an expert on opera. I can only view and review it from a theatrical point of view, not a musical one. Musically I get as far as everyone sang on key and the orchestra sounded fine.
But happily I am here to report that the Berkshire Opera Company has once aagin provided local audiences with an opera that is of the highest theatrical standards, as well as sounding like an opera should. One of the great complaints we theatrical types often have with the opera is that the people on the stage are singers, not actors. They warble away, usually in some language other than English, and assume the audience either already knows the story, or that the story doesn’t really matter very much in the first place.
BOC has brought together a cast of fine singers who can also act. Even without having skimmed the plot in my “Encyclopedia of Opera” (which promises a “richer, mature enjoyment of the opera for the whole family”) I knew what was going on and I enjoyed it.
Rosini’s 1816 opera buffo “Il Barbiere di Siviglia” (The Barber of Seville) is a very merry opera indeed, and the principals in this production appear to be having a grand time performing it. I was pleased to see Christopheren Nomura return to the Boland Theatre again this year. I thoroughly enjoyed him as Papageno in last year’s production of Mozart’s “The Magic Flute”. Nomura exudes good cheer, sings wonderfully well, and is a handsome man in the bargain. In the title role of Figaro, the Barber of Seville, he is a delight.
Equally delightful is Margaret Lattimore as the heroine Rosina. Lattimore, who has performed with the BOC before, is set to star in their August production, a world premiere of a new opera based on Edith Wharton’s novel “Summer”. A week or two ago she was in New York, busy moving house and studying for her August assignment, when she was summoned to Pittsfield to fill in for the ailing Jennifer Dudley who was slated to play Rosina. I realize that a fine mezzo-soprano like Lattimore has probably sung Rosina many times before, but she has settled in so effortlessly to this production that it is hard to imagine she hasn’t been rehearsing with this cast and crew all along. Lattimore is lovely to listen to and look at, and she seems to be having a darned good time up there.
Curt Peterson is also handsome and aquits himself well vocally as Rosina’s earnest suitor Count Almaviva (who disguises himself and woos her as the penniless Lindoro, with Figaro’s assistance, to make sure she loves him for himself and not his money or title.)
Francois Loup, a veteran opera character man, keeps everyone laughing as Doctor Bartolo, Rosina’s mean and miserly legal guardian who has ambitions to marry her himself for her dowery. Loup can sing a lot of Italian words very, very fast (I am sure there is a proper opera term for that) and he does so to great comic effect.
Another last minute replacement in the cast is Ryan Allen as Don Basilio, Dr. Bartolo’s sleazy confidante. Tall, thin, and hawk-nosed, Allen is very funny indeed as he unctiously does whatever is most lucrative for him, regardless of its effect on those around him.
The gorgeous sets and costumes are borrowed from the Virginia Opera, as they were last year for “The Magic Flute”. Virginia Opera is lucky to have the design talents of Eduardo Sicangco at their disposal, and we in Berkshire County are lucky that their stage and the Boland Theatre at BCC are so well matched. It will be interesting to see what kind of sets and costumes BOC comes up with for “Summer” where they will have to build from scratch for the world premiere.
The BOC once again is using English supertitles projected on to a long narrow rectangular screen hung from the top of the proscenium arch. They are helpful, but also distracting because your eye has to go continually up to read them and then down to match the words with then action on the stage. Luckily “The Barber of Seville” is a fairly straight forward comic opera and easy to follow, but I did miss a few moments of comedy on stage and a few lines of comedy on the screen because I was looking at the wrong place at the wrong time. And I never really trust those supertitles anyway. They seem to sing a great many more words than appear over head…
“Il Barbiere di Siviglia” (The Barber of Seville) runs through July 12 at the Boland Theatre in the Koussevitsky Art Center on the campus of Berkshire Community College, West Street, Pittsfield. The show runs three hours with one intermission. The opera is sung in the original Italian with English supertitles. Call the box office at 413-443-7400 for tickets and information.
copyright Gail M. Burns, 1999