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Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2009

Skylight Opera Theatre’s Richly Detailed ‘Barber of Seville’

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The Barber of Seville, Rossini’s frothy favorite, opened the Skylight Opera Theatre (which previously called itself simply The Skylight) season last weekend. Director Bill Theisen’s production, conventionally set in the 18th century, is rich in detail, as is his custom, and comes off rather well.

Barber needs inventive direction to come to life; otherwise it can be as tiresome as a party that never takes off. Theisen uses some traditional approaches, such as slow-motion action in the act one finale, and throws in many others. Most ideas work and create character and laughs, though asking the maid Berta to constantly sneeze wore thin very quickly. Van Santvoord’s pretty sets were largely customary. It was a surprise to see the interior of Bartolo’s house, usually an aristocratic space, show the dowdiness of an old bachelor.

On Saturday evening tenor Gregory Schmidt was indisposed. He sang recitatives only, and otherwise acted Count Almaviva while Peter Voigt sang on the side of the stage. The result was a strange mix of ventriloquism and silent movie. Even acting, it was difficult to believe in Schmidt as someone so impulsively carried away by emotion that he goes to outlandish extremes. Voigt’s voice is small but agile and right for the style. As Bartolo, Jason Budd is an expert comic actor, but only passable as a basso buffo opera singer. I’ve never heard a bel canto role sung so casually, more musical theater than opera.

Andrew Wilkowske is an energetic, happy-go-lucky Figaro. His vocal performance was likable enough, with bright sound, though he was not completely at home in the quick running notes of the music. As Rosina, mezzo-soprano Katherine Pracht was lovely and made this ingnue-with-a-hint-of-vixen part interesting. She is an engaging singer with a good voice, but it is not a perfect fit for Rossini’s coloratura.

Daniel Klein’s Basilio was the most original performance. Usually played as a prissy busybody, Klein gave the role some wacky masculine menace, costumed with dark Spanish garb and carrying mysterious baggage. Pasquale Laurino’s conducting and the orchestra’s playing was serviceable, though the string sound was noticeably thin.