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OPERA REVIEW: ‘The Barber of Seville’

MUNRO PAPPAS

Figaro, the barber in Rossini’s comic romp of an opera, “The Barber of Seville,” isn’t just a guy with a straight-edge razor blade. As the character so memorably reminds us in his opening aria, he manages to fit a lot more into his workday than trimming hair. He’s basically an “arranger” — someone who has his hand in just about everyone’s business in town, especially when it comes to matters of love. As Figaro reminds us, he makes good money, meets interesting people and is always in the know. No wonder he thinks it’s the perfect job.

From his opening moments as Figaro in the California Opera production Sunday at the Mercedes Edwards Theatre, Constantine Pappas ably captured that happy sense of exuberance. So did the production as a whole. With an excellent cast, great singing and an always upbeat confidence,  it was one of the strongest Cal Opera titles I’ve seen in recent years.

Stage director James Coventry’s clever, spiffy staging set a nimble tone early on and never let up. Standouts among the excellent principals were bass-baritone George Skipworth as Basilio and bass Lee Strawn as Dr. Bartolo. Both could teach master classes in comic timing. And their vocals were stellar.

Jamie Bonetto, a Cal Opera veteran, offered stirring arias as Rosina, and Robert Vann showed his own comic deftness and promising vocals as Count Almaviva, the disguise-loving suitor. Alexandra Jerinic made the most of her moment in the spotlight as the sneezing maid. It says a lot about this production that even a small role, such as Adam Cooke’s Fiorello, was played with a frisky assurance.

Kudos, too, to Richard Adamson, credited with costuming, scenic design and props. The look and feel of the production was first-rate.

The audience reserved its most thunderous applause for Pappas, who made the most of his big starring debut. His youthful Figaro offered a lively foundation for the show, and he ably demonstrated a preview of what his big, pleasing voice can offer in the future. Most important, he had fun, and the audience did, too. Like his character, Pappas seemed in love with his job, and it showed.

Responses to "OPERA REVIEW: ‘The Barber of Seville’"

Victoria A. Malko says:

Although I agree with every word in this “glowing” review, I can’t but notice a few omissions. It is understandable that the names of eight “rag-tag” musicians, Fiorello’s friends, did not find their way onto the page. Without star power, these chorus members are “disposable” artists, so who cares? But when the name of the conductor who put his heart and soul into the production is missing, it is unforgivable. Maestro Geoffrey Gallegos worked tirelessly day and night with the principals and the chorus to make Rossini’s not-so-easy score comprehensible. With patience and soft touch, he drew the best out of each musician, in the orchestra as well as behind the scenes, asking no more from the cast than to stay true to the music of the masterpiece and keeping the energy level high from the first downbeat till the last. No word about California Opera Association’s Artistic Director, Edna Garabedian, who shares in the triumph. She made it possible by bringing the talented artists together to create in the name of art.

Joan Levie says:

I completely agree with Victoria. I thought the production was excellent and it could not have happened without Ms. Garabedian and Mr. Gallegos.

My question to you is were all of the performers students at Fresno State? Were any professionals?

Summer Opera Fan says:

From what I learned, there was a Fresno State senior (Constantine Pappas, of course), and David White starts FSU in Fall. Adam Cooke is a senior at University High. Others attended McLane, JC, or were from other parts of the world. And I will agree with the prior comment – the chorus was a nice fit, and another stand out was Liu Yu Xi from China, a very fine soprano I also enjoyed on the other concert events this summer at the Fresno Art Museum. Jamie Bonetto is a Cal Opera veteran – Robert Vann from No. Cal- and Lee Strawn and George Skipworth are both accomplished opera educators with high-profile international careers. Edna seems to successfully couple young artists with veteran performers to elevate the educational experiences from those performances.

Summer Opera Fan says:

Maestro Geoffrey Gallegos is indeed a gem. I had a chance to talk to him. One interesting note I learned was that his father, a renowned tenor, Ronald Gallegos, was born in Fresno where he attended Edison High School, and graduated from Fresno State. He studied with Mercedes Edwards with early reviews describing him as a vocal artist of considerable talent and he went on to a successful opera career. Among his many awards, he was named as a “Distinguished Hispanic American.” Fresno was the start for multiple generations of both talent and honor.

Summer Opera Fan says:

This was a lovely “Barber of Seville” performance. I really got the storyline, delivered by the strong principals. Maestro Geoffrey Gallegos was indeed a joy to watch and conducted wonderfully. All of the orchestra members were extremely talented, and the ensemble together was smooth and impressive. The chorus was darling, energetic, and strong. Including all of those young people in the cast and at various stations around the theatre and in those backstage positions was exactly what we need to further the interests of opera for future generations. Edna has an irreplaceable way of encouraging young people, nurturing talent and creatively casting, bringing together a performance in a very effective way. She and Coventry with Adamson and the cast accomplished excellent outcomes for a very fine summer performance!

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