By Louis Lebherz
LAST SUNDAY, at the Henry J. Mello Center in Watsonville, the Santa Cruz Symphony, under the baton of Daniel Stewart, presented what was billed as a “concert performance” of Rossini’s comic opera, The Barber of Seville. Having seen and rather harshly reviewed the concert performance of Mozart’s Idomeneo at last summer’s Bach festival, I took my seat hoping for something special. I was pleasantly surprised to have witnessed a superb presentation. Although Stewart’s orchestra lost things more than once, the players generally responded well to the tempo changes and frequent rubati in the many bel canto arias and ensembles. There was a respect for Rossini’s dynamics, although the pacing of many of the long crescendos for which Rossini is known rarely started pianissimo enough and often reached their climax prematurely. It could have used another rehearsal or two.
The performance however was lifted far beyond expectations by the superb cast of youthful singers, Cheryl Anderson’s well-rehearsed men’s chorus (with a few ladies in there as well), and the innovative work of stage director, David Paul. What Mr. Paul did without the use of sets and costumes, and only a smattering of props, was to leave an audience saying they had seen the Barber of Seville and not just heard it! The interaction of the singers was excellent throughout (including the chorus), and the imaginative use of the acoustic shell with a platform and risers set behind the orchestra with the understated supertitles shown just above was brilliant.
The role of Figaro was sung by John Michael Moore (left). His stylishly brash character was well-controlled and a delight to watch. Rosina was performed by Ginger Costa-Jackson, striking in her strapless gold and chiffon gown, but even more so in her lovely full-bodied mezzo-soprano. Her aria, “Una voce poco fa” soared from bottom to top with exceptional coloratura. Her ensuing duet with Figaro, “Dunque io son,” was a highlight. As the Count Almaviva, Victor Ryan Robertson was very much at home in the light tenor repertoire. His opening serenade, “Ecco ridente in cielo,” was both well-played and well-sung. His character, Alfonzo, in the shaving scene was a fine piece of comic acting, as was his drunken soldier in the Act One finale. Both of the lower men’s roles were in excellent hands. Steven Condy was a terrific Doctor Bartolo. His understanding of the basso buffo style was very impressive, and his handling of the patter in his aria “A un dottor della mia sorte” was very clean and clear. Basso Ryan Speedo Green played a most imposing Don Basilio. His dark, rich voice easily handled the “La Callunia” aria (sung in C), and it was nice to hear it without the usual cut. It will be a treat to hear him sing some of the Verdi roles for which he is so well-suited. Susanne Mentzer was the frustrated Berta, and sang her aria, often omitted, with a real understanding of the role. The usually under-cast role of Fiorello was given to Hadleigh Adams. One would like to hear him someday as Figaro.
This performance left me very pleased. To hear such a quality Barber in Watsonville was an unexpected thrill. I would hope that the Santa Cruz Symphony will continue in future to venture into this kind of opera production. What one sees in movie theaters from the Metropolitan Opera in New York is so flashy, but it stifles opera in the provinces where small companies cannot compete due to budget constraints. To present an opera as I saw it, with top young singers, imaginative staging and full orchestra, fulfills a need. It will keep opera alive and well.
Louis Lebherz is a retired international opera basso. He lives in Carmel. firstname.lastname@example.org