One of the given truths in the world of opera is that Rossini's "Barber of Seville" is a, if not the, most perfect comic opera ever penned. Its melodies are lively and light and have gained instant recognition by any and all who have seen the Looney Tunes creation, "Rabbit of Seville," featuring Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd, the famous overture serving as the musical background.
Everything about "Barber" spells fun, even Rossini's claim that he wrote the work in 13 days and didn't shave because had he done so, he'd have gone out and never have completed the score in such rapid time. His music is infectious, as suggested by Carl Maria von Weber who said, "…who would not gladly listen to Rossini's lively flights of fancy." This work and its production is evidence of that infectious quality.
The interesting thing about "Barber" is that, no matter how often it's done, which is lots, it seldom seems to lose appeal. But rarely is it done with the abundant creativity seen in the Virginia Opera's production Sunday in Richmond's Carpenter Center.
I've seen quite a few "Barbers" and this was tops. It was a total product in which superb singing, acting, stage direction and orchestral support combined to create one giddy, fun-filled, musically rewarding event. From the principals to the chorus to the extras, this was an eye-appealing production that was vibrant and vivacious.
The storyline is absolutely silly, although at its heart, it rings familiar—man (Count Almaviva) and woman (Rosina) want to be united, are thwarted, and ultimately marry. Along the silly path there are disguises, plots, and miscellaneous missteps, a majority at the hands of the clever and mischievous barber Figaro, that offer constant fun and frolic.
As Figaro, Virginia Beach's up and coming baritone Will Liverman was in top form, his every appearance enhancing the action. He excelled in his rapid-fire, vocally gymnastic patter-type moments, but then so too did the rest of the principals — attractive mezzo-soprano Megan Marino (Rosina), whose lush sounding voice throughout her extensive range was exceptional; handsome Andrew Owens (Count Almaviva), whose tenor was pure and perfectly placed; and bass-baritones Christopher Job (Don Basilio) and Matthew Burns (Dr. Bartolo), both of whom delivered crafted characters and rich, solidly produced sounds.
Despite the challenges of navigating the spaghetti-like virtuoso vocals, this fine cast let the lines flow with seeming ease, all the while fleshing out their individual roles with extremely well-crafted mannerisms, comic timing and patterns that added to the fun.
Director Michael Shell did a splendid job in shaping this buffa buffet, bringing to it imagination, humor, and dimension. In the absolute best and most respected sense of the word, Shell's shtick was smartly conceived and skillfully executed. Amanda Seymour's costuming embraced a blend of styles, from contemporary and hippie to 18th century and circus. Although curious, it was colorful and fun and allowed additional levels of characterization to take place. As for Shoko Kambara's set design, it, too, was colorful and clever and contributed to the totality of this charming production.
Musically, John Baril managed the music and the singing and the often-wild stage happenings with a solid baton, the members of the Virginia Symphony responding energetically and providing Rossini's score appropriate vibrancy and vitality.
So effective and maybe even brilliantly devised was this "Barber" that the Virginia Opera should not chance another outing for "Barber" for many, many years, because this one will live in memory for a long, long time. This was buffa at its bravura best.
Shulson, a Williamsburg resident, has been covering the arts for over 40 years. He makes a guest appearance in Margaret Truman's "Murder at the Opera."