Comic flourish enlivens 'Barber'

OPERA: Director has two or three visual things going during most of the show.

February 9, 2009 

Anchorage Opera's "Barber of Seville" bustles with the animation of a television sitcom. As in his antic productions here of "HMS Pinafore" and "Don Pasquale," director Bill Fabris manages to have two or three visual things going on simultaneously most of the time that sidle up to, but don't quite become, slapstick. For instance, the echoing "Feeegaro" calls of the big act one aria, "Largo al factotum," were not sung by baritone James Taylor, but by cast members vying for his attention as they act out the text.

Taylor injected lively expressions into his portrayal of the tricky barber, Figaro. So did Kate Egan, as the tougher-than-she-looks heroine, Rosina, and -- especially -- Todd W. Robinson, Rosina's aging guardian, Doctor Bartolo, set on marrying her himself. From the closer seats, these rubber-faced comic flourishes were as clear as watching "I Love Lucy" reruns, but from the steady laughter behind me, I suspect they projected pretty well to the balcony too.

It's rare for basses to steal the show vocally. But Robinson and Won Cho -- as a perfectly venial Don Basilio, Bartolo's cohort -- were by far the strongest male members of the cast. Their voices dominated the ensembles. Cho has a particularly dark, melodic yet rafter-ringing bass that is worth the price of admission all by itself. Robinson's falsetto asides were, well, priceless.

Taylor's Figaro, while energetic and solidly on target, seemed somewhat small by comparison. Even quieter was the tenor of Dillon J. McCartney, in the role of Rosina's sweetie, Almaviva. McCartney has clear sound at the very high end of the range, and his nasally tone ("Does he have a cold?" people asked during intermissions) worked well in the music lesson scene. But on Saturday night he lacked the power and agility to keep up with the rest of the cast.

We had to wait until Act II to hear actual bel canto. That's when Egan filled the hall and tore up the set with an "Una voce poco fa" that drew guffaws even as she nailed her scales and top notes and made it all look effortless.

Satisfyingly sung smaller roles included Steve Dixon as Fiorello and Nancy Caudill as the housekeeper.

Amanda Walker's quasi-rococo set grabbed one's attention as soon as one entered the Discovery Theatre, looming two stories tall on the un-curtained stage. Built to be rotated for exterior and interior scenes, it may not have been easy to move quickly. Or so I suspect from the fact that the thunderstorm scene was among the cuts. The classic "Barber" costumes came from Sarasota Opera.

The orchestra, under the direction of William Hicks, played admirably, if a bit mechanically. The violins maintained good intonation and Cheryl Pierce's horn solos all came off cleanly.

An electric squeal popped up from time to time that might have come from a piece of equipment like a florescent light ballast. Please tell me it wasn't a microphone.

Find Mike Dunham online at or call 257-4332.

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