Scheme team: Jenni Samuelson and Lee Gregory star in The Barber of Seville.
'The Barber of Seville' is sharp as a razor
By Daedalus Howell
WHEN A BARBER nicks your ear, you yowl and shave a little from his tip. When Cinnabar Opera Theater's production of Gioacchino Rossini's The Barber of Seville nears your ears, they prick up and are so filled with delight that it's hard to resist paying twice.
Four-time Bay Area Critics Circle Award-winner Barbara Heroux and musical director Nina Shuman ignite a firecracker cast and send the actors rocketing through Donald Pippin's spry and slightly irreverent English reworking of the 19th-century opera.
The plot is deceptively simple: Young lovers Rosine (Jenni Samuelson) and Count Almaviva (Lee Gregory) have the kibosh put on their fledgling romance when Rosine's decrepit guardian, Dr. Bartolo (William Neely), decides to marry her instead. To scuttle Bartolo's plans, Almaviva enlists the services of hoodwinking blade-man Figaro (Todd Donovan). Disguises, misplaced mail, and midnight rendezvous abound as the rapscallion barber guides the couple's romance through a maze of subplots.
Baritone Donovan's Figaro is a wonderful combination of effete hairdresser and peseta-pocketing artful-dodger. His adroit singing and acting are marvelously tuned to his swaggering portrayal of the barber-of-fortune.
Donovan's ability to pair onstage with the other performers proves priceless as in an early scene when he and Gregory's Almaviva scheme like old school chums, then praise their comic subterfuge with nonchalant choruses of "Bravo, bravo, bravo."
Tenor Gregory is well cast as the simultaneously lovesick and comically cocksure young count. Throughout, the dynamic Gregory poses as other characters, revealing a broad acting range and an expansive vocal ability.
Samuelson's fetching Rosine (who can barely conceal her own machinations--they're written all over her gesticulating eyebrows) is a paean to feminine wiles. In Samuelson's performance, Rosine is nearly as conniving as her male counterparts. Although she remains demure, she's a sporting participant in Figaro and Almaviva's often ludicrous plots.
As the lecherous Bartolo, baritone Neely is point-perfect testament to Spanish author Baltasar Gracián's adage that "at 60 man is a dog." Neely's randy dandy Dr. Bartolo kvetches, counterplots, and ultimately sows the seeds of his own undoing, all with panache and vigor.
Director Heroux gets kudos for massaging the opera's native comedy to the fore with a number of subtle sight gags. At one point, gastronome Basilio (bass Stan Case as Bartolo's de facto sergeant at arms) unconsciously mauls a chicken while describing a plan to scandalize Almaviva, then takes a dainty bite out of a carrot. Later soprano Elly Lichenstein's crone Berta, Bartolo's ancient domestic, in a moment of romantic reflection dabs herself with a chicken leg as though it were perfume.
Complementing and underscoring the onstage performances is musical director Schuman's eight-piece orchestra, the "Filarmonico Figaretto."
The Barber of Seville is sharper than a razor and cleaner than a tight taper--make your appointments pronto. This show's a cut above.
The Barber of Seville plays at 8 p.m. on May 7-8, 15, 21-22, and 28-29; and at 3 p.m. on May 16. Cinnabar Theater, 3333 Petaluma Blvd. N., Petaluma. $12-$18. 763-8920.
From the May 13-19, 1999 issue of the Sonoma County Independent.
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