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Buffo but not boffo

Opera Pacific's season opener isn't a 'Barber of Seville' for the ages, but A. Scott Perry's production -- with a dominant Dr. Bartolo -- will do.

October 24, 2008|Richard S. Ginell | Ginell is a freelance writer.

Rossini's "The Barber of Seville" is one of opera's miraculous rush jobs: It took only three weeks to write and hasn't lost its freshness in the nearly two centuries since. Yet it isn't foolproof.

The vocal writing can be as arduous for the singers as it is pleasing to the ear, and the temptation to indulge in too much monkey business onstage can obscure the streaks of musical genius that flit by in unbelievable profusion.

You don't come across many great "Barbers" in a lifetime -- and Opera Pacific's season-opening production Wednesday night at Segerstrom Hall wasn't one of those. But it was good enough to put the piece over.

There was no anachronistic time-traveling for director A. Scott Perry, who placed this "Barber" squarely within a revolving, three-scene, traditional southern Spanish set borrowed from Canadian Opera. Still, he allowed his ensemble cast plenty of mugging room -- not as much as in some yukfest "Barbers" but enough to elicit laughter in the audience that covered up a number of Rossini's best ideas.

(Interestingly, Perry has written an English libretto for the jinxed third part of Beaumarchais' "Figaro" trilogy, "La mere coupable," bravely treading where others have stumbled.)

This was a "Barber" in which Figaro -- portrayed by baritone Jeremy Kelly as a disheveled, definitely "well-fed" ruffian who gradually, but not completely, pulls himself together -- had to match wits with an unusually formidable Dr. Bartolo. The veteran Michael Gallup long ago made Bartolo a signature character of his in Southern California; his unique, booming, foghorn bass-baritone was easily the dominant presence in every exchange, and his Bartolo was clearly no mere fool.

Mezzo-soprano Jennifer Rivera was a fascinating Rosina -- sufficiently opulent and agile in voice; wily, brainy and pert in manner but also carrying herself at times with a dignity that suggested the future countess of the second "Figaro" play, "The Marriage of Figaro." After a quick warmup, tenor Brian Stucki turned in a steady, reasonably ardent performance as Count Almaviva and was spared the count's final, lengthy aria in Act 2 (which is often cut). Basso Dean Peterson's Don Basilio slid and preened his way through the great slander aria, "La calumnia e un venticello."

Conductor John DeMain played a big part in keeping this "Barber" on the right musical track. He shaped the overture's introduction beautifully, despite the quick pacing -- and the Allegro section was splendidly played, if a wee bit tight. From that point onward, he kept the tension going and the tempos moving, with just enough room for the singers to breathe. Again, good enough.



'The Barber of Seville'

Where: Opera Pacific at Segerstrom Hall, Orange County Performing Arts Center, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa

When: 2 p.m. Sunday; 7:30 p.m. Oct. 30 and Nov. 1

Price: $30 to $200

Contact: (714) 546-6000, (800) 346-7372) or

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