Baritone Will Liverman as Figaro, the scheming barber.
Madison Opera finished its season with a hilarious, if overwrought, production of Rossini's beloved comedy “The Barber of Seville” at Overture Hall.
From the overture onward, maestro John DeMain set a tone of crisp and propulsive vitality that perfectly matched the music’s ebullient character. He had a splendid cast of actors and singers, all in good voice. Emily Fons was a spirited and vocally deft Rosina. As her suitor, Count Almaviva, tenor John Irvin negotiated his high range with confidence. Baritone Will Liverman was more clownish than swaggering as Figaro, the scheming barber. He sometimes became a little blurry in rapid runs, but is an apt comedian. Baritone Alan Dunbar was particularly stylish as the fumbling Dr. Bartolo, Rosina’s possessive guardian.
As the venal Don Basilio, Thomas Forde lacked the requisite bass range and color, but was a good character player. The role of the maid Berta was artificially enlarged in the production, but rising local star Chelsea Morris delivered her one aria with superb vocal flair. Fleshed out by a few female extras, the male chorus was solid and fully caught up in the action.
In staging the opera, director Doug Schulz-Carlson has a truly imaginative flair for stage action, but he provides too much of a good thing. The set, with moveable units, was rich and evocative — and splendidly functional. The costumes and decor were handsome. Constant details of movement, often ideally matching the rhythm of the music, were delightful, often brilliant. But there were simply too many of them — super-comedy spread with an earth mover. Bodies were constantly moving on and off the stage, doing farcical things in mountainous excess. The major solo numbers were overladen with sight gags and turbulent motion that became distracting. In the old days we called that scene stealing; now it is apparently the way to keep audiences awake.
So this is a production troppo buffo, too much of a funny-business riot. One hates to carp at what was plainly meant to be a fresh and entertaining realization of a comic classic. But this production just ran away with itself.
The Friday evening audience loved it, so I must be a killjoy. For those who love really comic comedy, this production will stand as a Madison Opera success.
The final production of “The Barber of Seville” is Sunday, April 26 at 2:30 pm in Overture Hall.