‘The Barber of Seville‘ a Sheer Delight

Matthew Grills and Sabina Puértolas Photo by Jacob Lucas

Go, go, go to Seattle Opera’s production of Rossini’s The Barber of Seville! This production is a hoot, full of trickery and disguises employed in pursuit of the love between Count Almaviva and the young Rosina, aided by the fast-talking Figaro to thwart villainous Dr. Bartolo, Rosina’s guardian who has his own designs on her. Musically it’s up there with the company’s best, with both singers and orchestra shining under maestro Giacomo Sagripanti; add to that the acting, the staging, the sets, costumes and lighting—they are marvelous.

Australian stage director Lindy Hume’s inventive imagination is at the core of it. She directed this production in Australia and New Zealand, and Seattle Opera brought the co-production here wholly intact. With Hume came set and costume designer Tracy Grant Lord as production designer and Michael Marshall as lighting designer, and the three together have produced a zany creation that is incredibly funny, unexpectedly lit and wildly colorful, yet true to the story and never overreaching into farce or slapstick.

Costumes range over 200 years of fashion, from knee breeches and a Regency wig (Dr. Bartolo) to a sober three-piece suit and glasses (the notary), blinding purple pants and jacket (Figaro) to red flamenco garb for the chorus—after all, this is Spain. Heroine Rosina wears a flowered leotard and tights so pretty you don’t realize it is underwear until she later appears in a flared scarlet satin skirt and a flowered blouse.

An oval of house fronts makes up the all-purpose set and proscenium, a street scene in all colors and early Spanish styles with lots of windows that open unexpectedly from all sides. When the action moves indoors, a couple of armchairs, occasional tables and a harpsichord appear, casually pushed on by the actors almost as part of the action. Bartolo‘s two retainers are a great help in that department: the ancient manservant Ambrogio (Seattle’s own Waxie Moon, aka Marc Kenison) and the feisty housekeeper Berta (mezzo-soprano Margaret Gawrysiak), both of whom are nosy beyond belief and watch Rosina all the time so she can’t escape.

Marc Kenison and Margaret Gawrysiak in The Barber of Seville
Marc Kenison and Margaret Gawrysiak

Saturday’s Rosina, fine Spanish soprano Sabina Puértolas making her Seattle Opera debut, is vivacious and spunky, easily a girl to catch the eye of the ardent Count Almaviva, high tenor Matthew Grills. The two singers flirt while engaging with ease in vocal acrobatics, nailing their bel canto arias. (Though Perhaps Grills’ most memorable moment is when, disguised as a fake music master, he gives a hilarious performance as accompanist on the harpsichord.)

The three lowest voices have perhaps the most memorably strong musical presences. As Dr. Bartolo, bass Kevin Glavin is full of his own pompous dignity and able to sing extraordinary patter style at warp speed. Daniel Sumegi lends his sonorous bass to the easily swayed Don Basilio. And as Figaro the barber, baritone John Moore is larger than life—the focus of the action whenever he’s on stage. At the beginning, Figaro initiates the action by pretending to rush on late from in front of the pit, dashing up the steps to the stage and promptly singing his boastful signature aria, which requires tongue-twisting ability as it gets faster and faster.

Add to all this a bevy of annoyed neighbors, a chorus of serenading musicians, policemen, soldiers, and flamenco dancers. Jonathan Dean’s supertitles echo the sassy nature of the production and the whole experience is sheer delight.

The Barber of Seville continues through Oct. 28 at McCaw Hall.