Rarely have I laughed as much or as hard at the theater. The staging, singing and acting on the opening night of the Piedmont Opera’s current production of “Il Barbiere di Siviglia” (“The Barber of Seville”) by Gioachino Rossini were superb. It was fantastic to hear the familiar arias and ensembles sung and played live and without electronic sanitization. The full house (including many school-age people) at the Stevens Center in the heart of Winston-Salem responded enthusiastically.

An early success in the career of Rossini (he was 24 when he wrote it), “The Barber” remains one of the most frequently performed of all operas, due partly to the popular overture and partly to two famous arias. In the title role of the barber and jack-of-all-trades, Figaro, Markus Beam sang the famous “Largo al factotum della cittá” with panache and wit. Well-cast as the boastful handy man and matchmaker, Beam has a powerful voice and an appealing personality.

The heroine of the opera, cunning Rosina, was played and sung by the beautiful Leah Wool, whose famous aria, “Una voce poco fa,” was sung exquisitely in the version Rossini composed, for coloratura mezzo-soprano rather than the soprano version currently in vogue. Wool has a lovely warm voice and a beautiful vibrato, nuanced and expressive.

However, the show was stolen by veteran singer Kevin Glavin as Dr. Bartolo, Rosina’s guardian who plans to marry her, yet must foil the plans and unmask the disguises of the young Count Almaviva, who wants to marry her, too. Gavin has a big voice, rich and warm, which he shades with subtle nuances and colors. He also improvises on stage, to the amusement of the audience – at one point he suspiciously poked around his living room looking for traces of Rosina’s duplicity, approached the lip of the stage and glancing into the orchestra pit exclaims “troppa gente” (“too many people”).

Lover Almaviva, (aka Lindoro, a love-struck poor student, aka a nameless drunken soldier, aka Don Alonzo, a music teacher), was sung by Victor Ryan Robertson who has a lovely tenor voice, at its best in the long high notes that end many of Rossini’s phrases.

Another high point in the show takes place when Don Basilio, Rosina’s regular music teacher, tries to plot with Dr. Bartolo to foil Almaviva’s pursuit of Rosina by planting a rumor about him, in the aria “La Calunnia.” Sung by the powerful and rich bass voice of Brian Banion with appropriate gestures, this must be one of the most humorous moments in the opera.

Two smaller roles, that of Berta, the doctor’s servant was drolly enacted and sung by Rebecca Shorstein, a soprano whose high notes dazzled and surprised us, and that of Fiorello (David Weigel) whose blustery bass fitted the part of Fiorello, the Count Almaviva’s man servant.

Much of the humor is no doubt due to the stage direction of Andrew Nienaber.

Maestro James Allbritten, artistic director of Piedmont Opera and conductor of this production, is a gem on the artistic scene of the Southeast. He conducted the performance with calm and masterful authority and the Winston-Salem Symphony, in the pit, responded with precision and warmth.

This is a “must see” production!

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