30 October 2005: Rossini, The Barber of Seville

Commonwealth Opera, Academy of Music, Northampton. Sung in Italian with (wretched) English supertitles.

This gem of a theatre, reconditioned and redecorated some years ago and still in need of more updating and just plain paint, has in recent years been almost exclusively a cinema. But a new director has just been hired, and the policy is going to shift in favor of much more live performance. As it has been, the local opera and local ballet (Northampton Ballet) have used it a few times a year for opera and The Nutcracker. Some feelers, welcome, to be sure, have been put out in the direction of New Century Theatre.

This production of the Rossini classic began weakly but gathered steam, and by the second act was off and running. Ben Davidson, the Count Almaviva, has a pleasant lyric tenor, but not strong enough to fill the house. Valerie Nicol­osi, the Rosina, however, was all she needed to be, having a powerful mezzo voice, very pleasant on the ear, and the personality for a convincing, sprightly Rosina. Jonathan Carli’s big baritone and seemingly limitless energy carried him through the Figaro in fine style, though the stage director, Ron Lucksinger, needed to take more time to help him polish and define the character and his incessant movements, especially in the self-defining opening aria “Largo al factotum.” Richard Cassell was a full-voiced and very entertaining Dr Bartolo. Tom O’Toole, the Basilio, was also the deep baritone he needed to be, though his eyebrows were made up in an exaggerated style foreign to the rest of the cast.

Rossini’s music of course carries the day; the ensemble pieces are espec­ially pleasant and gratifying. The whole enterprise came off well, finally, in this second of only two performances — a niggardly offering attributable perhaps to the high cost per performance but disappointing to think about after all that effort.

Dick Stromgren, the president of Commonwealth Opera, made an over-long speech at the curtain to begin, when they were already ten minutes late. An inpatient member of the audience in the upper balcony, toward the end of Dick’s speech, called out “Where’s the music?!” He should take that as an admonition and revise the length of his speech next time. It may have been the late start, the long speech, and the rude interruption of it that put the audience in a less-than-receptive frame of mind; at any rate, the opening act, played entirely before an act drop, lacked energy and pace and polish. But, as I said, things improved steadily. The decision to do the first act this way was very likely driven by the fact that there is very little wing space on the Academy stage. Once the very substantial “inside-outside” two-level set for Acts II and III was in place on the stage, there seemed to be no alternative but to go with an act drop. And it was not well painted, either.

These are the compromises that have to be made in community theatre. The singers may be professional, but the overall standard is somewhat less. Costumes, aside from Rosina’s two lovely gowns, one blue, one maroon, seemed to be no more than “pulls” from the costume stores. Or else they just need a better designer — and a group of dedicated seamstresses of the kind that Valley Light Opera boasts of. (Their Merry Widow is coming up next weekend.)


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An American Playgoer at Home by Joseph Donohue is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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