‘The Barber of Seville’: A little off at the top, Lyric Opera production builds to mighty finish

The action picks up with the arrival of Adam Plachetka, strong of voice but good-natured in character, as Figaro.

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Marianne Crebassa as Rosina and Adam Plachetka as Figaro in Rossini’s “The Barber of Seville” at the Lyric Opera House.

© Todd Rosenberg Photography

It took a while for Rossini’s usually frothy comedy “The Barber of Seville,” which opened Lyric Opera of Chicago’s 65th season Saturday night, to achieve liftoff. Despite stellar voices and airy sets glowing with the luminous sunshine, cool stone colonnades and filigreed wrought iron of 18th century Spain, the first half of the performance felt earthbound. After intermission, however, the pace seemed to quicken in this revival of a previous Lyric production, new in 2014 and originally directed by musical theater veteran Rob Ashford. By the final, rollicking chorus celebrating the triumph of young love, hearts were soaring, both onstage and in the audience.

‘The Barber of Seville’

Untitled

‘The Barber of Seville’

When: Through Oct. 27

Where: Lyric Opera House, 20 N. Wacker

Tickets: $49-$279

Info: Lyricopera.org


Sir Andrew Davis, the evening’s conductor as well as Lyric’s esteemed music director, set a romantic mood in the opera’s overture. All of Rossini’s short, snappy phrases and mercurial mood shifts were there, clearly articulated by the attentive orchestra. But Lyric’s lush, sweet violins lingered in the overture’s longer melodic phrases, and the atmosphere overall was more dreamy than fizzy.

The opening scene — a midnight serenade that fails comically when the fair maiden refuses to come onto her balcony — fell flat. Planted center stage and singing directly to the audience, Lawrence Brownlee’s Count Almaviva seemed more swaggering operatic tenor than lovestruck young swain. But once Adam Plachetka’s high-spirited, hearty Figaro arrived, the action picked up, and Lyric’s fine vocalists threw themselves into Rossini’s fiercely steep, fiendishly intricate melodies with brio.

Tall and sturdy with a bass-baritone that rattled the opera house rafters, Plachetka could have simply overwhelmed everyone else on stage. But in addition to his strong, flexible voice, he is a gifted actor. His Figaro was a good-natured busybody but also savvy, light on his feet, capable of making himself disappear in plain sight when necessary. This was a vivid portrait of a consummate fixer, a small-town big fish who prides himself on always delivering the goods.

Brownlee, who made a memorable Lyric debut in 2015-16 as another lovestruck young aristocrat in Rossini’s “Cinderella,” certainly delivered the goods Saturday night. His tenor has a dark cast that gave his Almaviva a virile, resolute authority. In the final scene, having wrested his beloved Rosina from the clutches of her greedy old guardian, Brownlee sailed through wave after wave of treacherous Rossini ornaments like a surfer in the zone. As he snuggled with Marianne Crebassa’s feisty Rosina in a final duet, their voices raced up and down, twisting, swooping, starting, stopping. They were a pair of giggling young lovers, heady with the thrill of hurling their love song into the skies.

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Alessandro Corbelli (left) as Dr. Bartolo and Lawrence Brownlee as Count Almaviva in “The Barber of Seville” at the Lyric Opera House.

© Todd Rosenberg Photography

Willowy and lithe, Crebassa was a standout from her first scene, her effortless singing bubbling up from a young, exuberant heart. In its lower registers, her lustrous mezzo-soprano had a dusky color that underscored pretty Rosina’s steely spine. As she explained herself in an Act I aria, we didn’t doubt for a minute that this young charmer could turn into a viper when crossed. Sitting on a desk, swinging her legs as she sang, she was a winsome portrait of a teenager in love. But Crebassa made it clear that this particular teenager was not born yesterday.

Neither was Alessandro Corbelli’s Dr. Bartolo, whose take on Rosina’s lecherous old guardian was such a pleasure. Reprised from Lyric’s original 2014 production, his Bartolo may be white of hair and unsteady of gait. But he was nobody’s doddering old fool. Expertly spitting out streams of tongue-twisting musical patter, he was as wily and skeptical as a fast-talking lawyer. In the end, Bartolo is outfoxed, but we know the old fox will soon be hatching new tricks.

Subsidiary characters were equally fine. Mathilda Edge, a first-year member of Lyric’s Ryan Opera Center training program, brought a clarion, robust soprano to the role of Berta, Dr. Bartolo’s housekeeper. Eschewing stereotype, Edge’s confident Berta was compelling. Exasperated and capable, she nearly convinced us that, based on her long experience, romance simply wasn’t worth the trouble.

“The Barber of Seville” is more than 200 years old. But an aria by another subsidiary character, Don Basilio, struck a disturbingly relevant chord Saturday night. Singing about slander’s power to destroy reputations, Polish bass Krzysztof Baczyk slithered like a seductive snake through Rossini’s long, slow melodic lines. Both cautionary and gleeful, Don Basilio’s dark-hued aria brought to mind our current age of internet trolls and hackers. Slander traveled more slowly in Rossini’s day, but it is still as potent as ever. Luckily for us, so is Rossini’s timeless opera.

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