Following productions like Death and the Powers and Die tote Stadt, the 2013-14 Dallas Opera Season ended in a fun-filled, light-hearted affair. Armed with one of the strongest casts of the season and a zany production, The Barber of Seville had audiences engaged in laughter throughout the evening’s performance.
From the very opening, the strength of the cast was apparent. Baritone, Nathan De’Shon Myers, made a mark in his return to the Dallas Opera with his stellar performance in the opening Piano pianissimo, senza parlor. His powerful baritone nearly upstaged tenor, Alek Shrader (Count Almaviva), in his opening Ecco, ridente in cielo aria. Shrader certainly has the agility and refined coloratura the role demands, but what was most impressive was his stamina, as his strongest performance was in the demanding (and often cut) Cessa di più resistere aria at the end of the opera.
Bartione, Nathan Gunn, in a quick return to Dallas (2013 performance in The Aspern Papers) had the audience in the palm of his hands as soon as he began the famous Largo al factotum aria. His commanding presence, strong lyric baritone, and his wonderful ability to act within such a goofy role made him the perfect Figaro. But perhaps the unexpected (for this critic at least) star of the evening, was mezzo-soprano Isabel Leonard in her Dallas Opera debut. Her dark, lyric-mezzo voice was absolutely perfect as Rosina, and her agile coloratura was breathtaking, particularly in her Contro un cor che accende amore… aria with Count Almaviva. Leonard is most certainly a mezzo to keep your eye on in the future. Donato DiStefano as Dr. Bartolo might deserve an Oscar as much as he deserves vocal praise. His buffo antics on stage wouldn’t have been nearly effective if he didn’t have the voice to back it up, however, and he proved he was more than capable in his A un dottor dell mia sorte aria.
But it wasn’t just the main stars, or Fiorello, that made this a such a strong cast. Both Burak Bilgli (Don Basilio) and Jennifer Aylmer (Berta) made strong impressions in their Dallas Opera debuts. Bilgli’s booming bass rang out with authority and treachery in his La Calunnia aria as he plots with Dr. Bartolo to slander Count Almaviva, and Aylmer nearly brought the house down in her Il vecchiotto circa moglie performance.
There was certainly more to this production than it’s extremely strong cast of performers; Barber is, after all, a comedy and part of making it a successful production is balancing all of the ridiculousness, and craziness happening in the plot with the absolutely beautiful music. Production director, John Copley, certainly has a vision for Barber, and adds more than a touch of whimsy throughout. Some of his designs work extremely well and truly help to make the production special. Wheeling out a two-story “barber shop” that Figaro wakes up in for his Largo al factotum performance, and a “servants” room for Berta’s Il vecchiotto circa moglie aria were particularly nice touches. Other times, however, the over-the-top production gets in the way and is almost too overwhelming. The finale of the First Act during the Fredda ed immobile, comme una statua performance, things are already pretty chaotic. So to add to it with music stands and “policemen” and other unnamed people trying to form pictures and other things was almost too distracting, especially with all of the fantastic singing that was going on. Those moments, however, were thankfully the minority.
The Dallas Opera production of The Barber of Seville was a perfect way to end the season on a fun-filled, high note. It will also be a fantastic performance for the upcoming AT&T Stadium simulcast — something they are already planning for it seems, as the opening scene features Count Almaviva flashing a Dallas Cowboys handkerchief. And if the Winspear Opera House audience is a good predictor, AT&T Stadium will be filled with excitement and laughter on April 11th.