The Washington Opera's new production of Rossini's "Il Barbiere di Siviglia" ("The Barber of Seville") should not be missed.
This "Barber," which opened Saturday at the Kennedy Center's Eisenhower Theater, is not ideal vocally. But it is staged and performed with enough energy, intelligence and charm to make Giuseppe Verdi's judgment that "it is the most beautiful comic opera in existence" ring true.
Director Leon Major's staging had subtle moments -- it is filled with allusions to current high and popular culture -- but he never forgot that the essence of comedy is speed and laughter. Even a combined first and second act (that kept a listener in his seat for almost two hours) moved. Allen Moyer's sets and James Scott's costumes were unobtrusively elegant and the show was nicely lit by Joan Sullivan.
The youthful cast put a premium on singers who were good actors and were believable in their roles. Thus we got a Rosina in Vivica Genaux who was inviting enough to make us understand why Count Almaviva would disguise hiself as a student in order to woo her; an Almaviva in Brian Nedvin who was handsome; and a Figaro in Michael Chioldi who looked as vigorous as the florid music he had to sing.
Chioldi was not always able to cope precisely with all the filigree work demanded by arias such as "Largo al factotum" -- which continues to make Figaro's name familiar to children who watch Saturday morning cartoons shows -- but he is so likable and intelligent an actor-singer that he commands the stage. Genaux displayed a superb sense of comic timing and a mezzo-soprano voice equal to the agile challenges posed by Rosina. While her voice has a lovely lower register, her top notes were sometimes labored and hard on the ear. An attractive performance by Nedvin as Almaviva was not always enough to compensate for occasional uncertainty of pitch.
The best singing of the evening came from bass-baritone Francesco Facini, who was hilarious as the doddering Dr. Bartolo, Rosina's guardian and would-be consort. His delivery of Rossini's patter songs was smooth and witty enough to bring the late Danny Kaye to mind. Bass Edward Russell was suitably menacing as Basilio, and mezzo Marianne Cornetti made a fine impression in the small role of Berta.
If his slightly subdued conducting of this "Barber" is any indication, music director Heinz Fricke is not as comfortable in Italian as in German works. But there was no question of a less-than-authoritative presence on the podium.
When: Tonight at 7:30, Dec. 31, Jan. 7, 12, 15, 20, 23, 25, 28 and 31, Feb. 3 and 6
Where: Eisenhower Theater at the Kennedy Center
Tickets: $52 to $92
Call: (202) 416-7800 or (800)-87-OPERA