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Review: The Barber of Seville at IU Opera

A captivating cast and beautiful set

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4.5 stars

IU Opera moves us into the machinations of Figaro, the self-proclaimed mover and shaker of 18th century Seville society. A captivating cast and beautiful set make this a living, breathing slice of life.

Gioachino Rossini was a mere 23-year-old when he composed The Barber of Seville and conducted its premiere on Feb. 20, 1816. He presents nuanced commentary on human nature and social status. Rossini's opera based on the first part of the trilogy by French playwright Pierre Beaumarchais (premiere 1775) surfaced thirty years after Mozart's Marriage of Figaro (premiere 1786), based on Beaumarchais' second play and set several years later. There already were three other operas based on the first play before Rossini presented his version. And, in the spirit of today's sports fans, the followers of Giovanni Paisiello, whose version was in its 25th  year, hissed and booed Rossini's opening night. The uproar fizzled at the second performance and the rest is music history.

Two hundred years later we're humming Rossini, and noting Sterbini's clever libretto, laughing at the wit, nodding at the wisdom, smirking at the sauciness, sighing at the oafish intentions.

Rosina is a prototype feminist — identified as 'wily as a fox' by Figaro, she's imagined her life not as a fairy tale princess but as an opera heroine. Her arias show crystal clear intentions, yet she crumbles to Bartolo's slander and makes a disastrous choice only to be saved in the nick of time by, yes, Figaro.

On Sept. 25 Monica Dewey was totally believable as Rosina. Issa Ransom's love struck Almaviva is a case study in character building — and credit him for seeing beyond Rosina's beauty into her soul. Alonza Lawrence as the scheming Dr. Bartolo owns the stage when he laments 'modern music' and escapes into the memory of the long ago minuet. Connor Lidell gives Basilio epic credulity in his treatise on the art of slander. Eileen Jennings as Berta and James Smith as Fiorello show the hardships servants must endure; while Deiran Manning's depiction of the ancient Ambrogio will endure at least in my memory. Bruno Sandes' characterization of the police sergeant either is a prelude to Gilbert & Sullivan or is a directorial page out of G&S.

Paul Nadler conducted the IU Symphony Orchestra; Garnett Bruce stage directed; Walter Huff is chorus master; set and costume design are by C. David Higgins and Patrick Mero designed lighting; Louis Lohraseb performed the Harpsichord Continuo interlude.

Next up: IU Fall Ballet: Balanchine, Taylor, Tharp; Oct. 2-3


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