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Opening night of Opera Carolina's production of Rossini's Barber of Seville was well attended. A festive crowd left perhaps one in ten seats empty in the 2100-seat Belk Theater and was rewarded with a solid performance by a mostly-young cast.
It was once true that young North American singers, having completed their conservatory training, would inevitably spend five to ten years in Europe. A beginner could learn additional repertory and eke out a living appearing in the numerous regional opera houses that small European cities supported and that were scarce on this continent. But the major opera companies of New York, Chicago, San Francisco and Toronto are now supplemented by a large number of second-echelon companies that allow an optional approach for starting an operatic career. Members of the cast of Barber of Seville have sung roles in Raleigh, Charleston, Baltimore, Fort Worth, Austin, Tulsa, Phoenix, Seattle, Minneapolis, Cleveland, Dayton, Vancouver, Calgary, Winnipeg and Ottawa. And now Charlotte.
Baritone Ryan Taylor was a standout as Figaro. This young man, educated at Brigham Young University, is a composer and tuba player as well as a dynamic baritone. The days of empty-headed singers are long gone; we now experience singers with multiple talents. From his first aria, Taylor showed that he was going to be the focal point. Yet in all the ensemble pieces, he blended admirably and never upstaged his fellow singers.
Mezzo-soprano Adriana Zabala's spirited demeanor and body language portrayed Rosina as a genuinely impatient and impetuous young woman. The role can be transcribed upward for a soprano voice, but my preference is to hear it sung as it was on Saturday using the timbre of a mezzo-soprano, especially a mezzo like Zabala whose upper range is quite strong.
Tenor Victor Ryan Robertson appeared as Almaviva. This young man has appeared in both classical opera and contemporary musical roles, among which was Rodolfo in Baz Luhrman's modern Broadway adaptation of Puccini's La Boheme. Robertson is another young singer with versatility. His dramatic depiction of Almaviva lacked complexity, but then Rossini and the playwright Beaumarchais did not give the Count much complexity, reserving that for Figaro and Rosina.
Soprano Stephanie Foley Davis played the maid Berta. A graduate of the North Carolina School of the Arts with a Master's degree from UNC-Greensboro, Davis was entirely adequate, as was newcomer William Roberts in the role of the music teacher Don Basilio. The only disappointing portrayal was in the first appearance of Michael Dane, who sang the two minor roles of Fiorello (Act One) and the Officer (late in Act Two). The first lines by Fiorello were jarring; perhaps Dane had not warmed up properly.
The exception to this "youth" theme was Peter Strummer, the character-acting bass-baritone who was a most convincing and most amusing Dr. Bartolo. An advantage of all these young singers is the vitality and acting ability they bring to their roles, and Strummer kept up with his younger colleagues in these attributes.
Tyrone Paterson conducted. This young conductor is a graduate of the University of Calgary and the University of British Columbia who began his career as Resident Conductor and Artistic Administrator of Calgary Opera. In 1998 he became Artistic Director and Principal Conductor of Opera Lyra Ottawa and added duties as Music Advisor and Principal Conductor of Manitoba Opera. (He is also perhaps the tallest conductor most of us will ever see.) Paterson is rapidly becoming known well beyond his native Canada, appearing in Austria, Hong Kong and Beijing as well as the United States. His direction of the Barber of Seville showed an ability to accompany without obtruding, and a facility with assisting ensembles. Greg Fortner directed the staging.
The Barber of Seville is scheduled for four performances at the Belk Theater. Still remaining are those of Thursday, January 29 and Saturday, January 31. Each of the six lead roles is sung by collaborative musicians who work well together. Altogether, this cast is greater than the sum of its parts, as Rossini intended. One result is the tight ensemble during the sextets that conclude both acts. These sextets were a highlight, and a tribute to Rossini, to Paterson, and to the six leads.
See the CVNC Western calendar for details of remaining performances.