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Thread: Il Barbiere di Siviglia at Piedmont Opera - review

          
   
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    Opera Lively Site Owner / Administrator / Chief Editor Top Contributor Member Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
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    Il Barbiere di Siviglia at Piedmont Opera - review

    Il Barbiere di Siviglia, ossia L'Inutile precauzione (1816), opera buffa in two acts, music by Gioacchino Rossini, libretto by Cesare Sterbini. Sung in Italian, with English supertitles.

    Piedmont Opera (Winston-Salem, North Carolina, USA), March 15, 17, and 19, 2013 (for tickets for the remaining two performances, call 336-725-7101, or click [here]. Full announcement can be found at the company's website, by clicking [here], and casting notes can be found [here]).

    This review is of the opening night.

    Orchestra: The Winston-Salem Symphony conducted by James Allbritten
    The Piedmont Opera Chorus

    Stage Director: Andrew Nienaber
    Scenic Designer: Jeffrey Dean, Sarasota Opera
    Scenery coordinated by: Dennis Gill Booth
    Costumes provided by: Malabar Limited, Toronto
    Costumes coordinated by: Ann M. Bruskiewitz
    Lighting Designer: Norman Coates
    Wig and Make-up Designer: Martha Ruskai

    Cast, in order of appearance:

    Fiorello - David Weigel
    Count Almaviva - Victor Ryan Robertson
    Figaro - Markus Beam
    Rosina - Leah Wool
    Dr. Bartolo - Kevin Glavin
    Don Basilio - Brian Banion
    Berta - Rebecca Shorstein

    Read very interesting, exclusive Opera Lively compact interviews (10 questions for each) with the five principal singers (Victor, Kevin, Leah, Markus, and Brian) by clicking [here].

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    Photo courtesy of Piedmont Opera - Photo credit Steve Davis Photography

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    Readers who are familiar with Opera Lively's coverage of the North Carolina operatic scene know that we are very fond of Piedmont Opera, given the company's high level of quality in virtually all of its productions we've attended, augmented by their close collaboration with the University of North Carolina School of the Arts - Fletcher Opera Institute. This regional company is not only sought after by many interesting outside singers who enjoy the convivial environment they find there, but also draws upon the assets of the Fletcher, with a berth of local student singers and production resources of all kinds (Music School, Dance School, Design and Production School), making of Piedmont Opera a rather unusual company, for its size. While the limited budget of this small company can't afford to hire the most famous international opera stars, they amply compensate for it by some smart casting, and by having, for example, a very good chorus that incorporates not only veterans of the trade by also the most talented Fletcher students, who also provide good artists for comprimario roles. Also, the company benefits from the excellence of the Winston-Salem Symphony, one of the best regional orchestras in the United States.

    The mix is almost infallible. When we head to Winston-Salem to attend either one of their productions, or one of the Fletcher productions (which are often co-produced with the professional company, given that both organizations are under the same artistic leadership of Maestro James Allbritten and various other Piedmont Opera crew members also belong to the faculty at the UNCSA), we know that we are in for a treat.

    This time, as expected, it was no different. The Barber of Seville is an opera that of course has been given thousands of times, and occupies currently the #8 spot on the list of most performed operas, worldwide. Therefore, it is not easy to circumvent a jaded feeling of "yet another Barber" and make sure the audience finds in it something fresh and compelling. Well, Piedmont Opera did just that, and again, hit all the marks to provide to its patrons a highly enjoyable experience.

    First of all, Maestro Allbritten practiced perfect tempi and excellent control of the dynamics, and his forces delivered elegant and precise sounds. The Stevens Centers has great acoustics, and is the right size for an intimate experience while still harboring enough seats for the dimension of this metropolitan area.

    Second, the cast was admirable. Dear readers, don't think that my fondness for the company and for the people who lead it is biasing my judgment here. This performance had truly exquisite singing, and even better, incredibly good acting. I had been told by the company executive director Frank Dickerson that during rehearsals, the musicians from the orchestra and the pianists were making comments on this being the best cast the company has gathered in years. I'll have to agree. While other shows from Piedmont Opera always display good singing, this time, the group of seven talented singers blew us away: they were almost flawless.

    Especial kudos are to be given to the artist in the title role - Mr. Markus Beam - with his booming voice, perfect diction, strong stage presence, and very pleasant timbre, and to Mr. Kevin Glavin in the role of Dr. Bartolo, who stole the show in all of his scenes.

    Mr. Glavin is a very experienced buffo bass who has performed this role and others in the similar repertory hundreds and hundreds of times all over the world. He is extremely funny on stage with his body language, does the patter songs with panache, and according to his younger colleagues, inspires them to up their games, given his thorough mastery of this operatic genre.

    This is precisely how Piedmont Opera achieved what I was talking about: a fresh and compelling Barber. It was in the comedic acting. This production was certainly one of the funniest Barbers I've ever seen, and the public (including this writer and spouse) laughed out loud in numerous occasions. Several unexpected details contributed to the laughter: from inserting a line from HMS Pinafore that the same singer had performed for Piedmont Opera a while ago - an inside joke! - to slapstick moments like when Berta is knocked down to the floor unconscious when she tries to open the door to someone knocking and Figaro bursts in (a Seinfeld's Cosmo Kramer's-worthy entrance!) pushing the door on her, to creative solutions in the Piedmont Opera-specific supertitles (updating some lines to American jargon), to acting choices like portraying Don Basilio with effeminate touches - it was all a riot!

    Stage direction by Mr. Nienaber was likely responsible for some other very funny bits, with the chorus movements on stage in the opening scene (the hired musicians for the Count's serenade), the comic use of a corner garden with a tree behind which Count Almaviva would hide, and the soldiers' actions, all being very humorous and well orchestrated moments with perfect blocking.

    The beautiful scenery obtained from Sarasota Opera, and the equally handsome costumes that came from London also added to the enjoyment. The lighting had its moments as well, such as in another hilarious bit when cocky Figaro seems to turn on the lights in parts of the scenery with a wave of his hand.

    Back to singing and acting, Mr. Victor Robertson delivered very well his lyric tenor arias and was fast and agile in his stage movements; Ms. Leah Wool displayed impressive coloratura and was a very charming stage presence; and Brian Banon was simply excellent both vocally and acting-wise, with a performance of "La calunnia Ť un venticello" for the ages. This aria was one of the top moments of this show, thanks to the stage action including Don Basilio starting it by crawling on the floor, then grabbing Dr. Bartolo and sort of tickling him as the crescendo progresses, and knocking down two chairs in synchrony with the canon sounds that occur later in the aria.

    Confirming what I said about the quality of the comprimarios at Piedmont Opera, both Ms. Rebecca Shorstein, an alumna of the UNCSA, and Mr. David Weigel, a current Fletcher fellow at the same school, performed their roles with great skills. There wasn't really any weak link in this cast, with all seven singers issuing the right notes and being heard loud and clear, and the chorus doing just as well.

    To add to the nice time we had in Winston-Salem, the company put together a delicious pre-opera dinner and a reception with champagne toast at the end, when we had the opportunity to mingle with the artists and to befriend the Board members and donors. Mr. Allbritten during the reception addressed the guests by introducing each artist and each crew member with some hilarious person-specific comments, proving that the talented conductor could have been up on stage doing comedy just as well as his singers.

    During the reception we were able to enjoy the company of the singers - Mr. Glavin again lit up the party with his larger-than-life presence, and his colleagues seemed all happy with the success of this fine show. Some of them pleased us by demostrating that they've been reading Opera Lively, by making specific comments about some of our other articles beyond their own interviews with us.

    We were also impressed with how knowledgeable the Board members and donors were about opera. Often we see Board members and donors who value the arts and sustain a company financially (and we opera lovers are very thankful to them), but aren't exactly well informed about the genre. Not these Winston-Salem folks. Many of them had insightful comments to make about the show, and about opera in general. The friendly atmosphere was also remarkable, showing that Piedmont Opera is not only a neat company, but is also the focal point for a very convivial and discerning local opera-loving community.

    Bravo again, Piedmont Opera, and we look forward to the next show, nothing less than Wagner's The Flying Dutchman on October 25, 27, and 29, 2013; a courageous choice, and an appropriate one given that we are celebrating Wagner's bicentennial.

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    More production pictures:

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    Photo courtesy of Piedmont Opera - Photo credit Steve Davis Photography

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    Photo courtesy of Piedmont Opera - Photo credit Steve Davis Photography

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    Photo courtesy of Piedmont Opera - Photo credit Steve Davis Photography
    Last edited by Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva); March 17th, 2013 at 06:23 PM.
    "J'ai dit qu'il ne suffisait pas d'entendre la musique, mais qu'il fallait encore la voir" (Stravinsky)

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