Opera-tune-ity: Barber of Seville doesn't short-cut fanciful farce

It's safe to say the Florida Grand Opera's performance on March 2 of Rossini's The Barber of Seville got off to a much better start than the famous opera's debut 190 years earlier.

Aaron St. Clair Nicholson stars as Figaro and Phyllis Pancella stars as Rosina in Il barbiere di Siviglia, The Barber of Seville.

Deborah Gray Mitchell / Courtesy Florida Grand Opera

Aaron St. Clair Nicholson stars as Figaro and Phyllis Pancella stars as Rosina in Il barbiere di Siviglia, The Barber of Seville.

With a cast and orchestra made up of amateurs, the first rendition of the opera was a disaster. One of the performers was badly injured in a fall over a trap door, a cat disrupted the production, and the audience hissed and booed, prompting a diatribe from the composer, who was eventually chased out of the theater.

The March 2 performance at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts was professional and brilliantly executed. Maestro Stewart Robertson set the tone with the famous Overture, and Paul Austin Kelly sang with a bell-like clarity and deceptive simplicity in the opening aria, Ecco ridente in cielo.

By the time Figaro, performed by Aaron St. Clair Nicholson, was finished delivering the well-known Largo al Factotum with verve and flawless enunciation, cheers erupted from the appreciative audience, even though the oprah was only in the middle of the first act.

In Rossini's signature work, Count Amaviva is in love with the beautiful Rosina, ward of the greedy Dr. Bartolo, who plans to marry her in order to gain possession of her considerable fortune. The Count turns to his trusted friend Figaro, the barber, to get him into the house where he can woo his beloved.

Kevin Glavin (Dr. Bartolo) and Paul Austin Kelly (Count Almaviva) spar as Sally Wolf (Berta), Phyllis Pancella (Rosina) and Aaron St. Clair Nicholson (Figaro) look on.

John Pineda / Courtesy Florida Grand Opera

Kevin Glavin (Dr. Bartolo) and Paul Austin Kelly (Count Almaviva) spar as Sally Wolf (Berta), Phyllis Pancella (Rosina) and Aaron St. Clair Nicholson (Figaro) look on.

Meanwhile, inside the house, the Doctor's creepy confidant, Don Basilio, conspires to ruin the Count's reputation as he sings La calunnia (Slander), convincingly performed by Matthew Burns.

Rosina, of course, has heard the serenading of the Count, who has sent her a letter via Figaro in which he claims to be a humble student with no money. She instantly falls in love with his voice and his romantic vision.

Rosina, played by Phyllis Pancella, shines as she sings Una voce poco fa (I heard a voice a little while ago). Though dull, the doctor finally figures out that Rosina is plotting against him, and decides to lock her up whenever he leaves the house. Kevin Glavin's bass voice is clear and vibrant as he delivers the stinging A un dottor della mia sorte to the defiant Rosina.

Figaro disguises the count as a drunken officer who is to be billeted in the Doctor's house. The Count plays his role rather too well, causing a near riot that results in the calling of the city guard. Here, the single weakness of the production is on display rather too long, as the overuse of a strobe light distracts from the more than adequate confusion and farcical goings-on as the entire company closes the first act.

  • Where: Broward Center for the Performing Arts, 201 SW 5th Ave., Fort Lauderdale
  • When: The season finishes with Rigoletto March 18 to April 8 and Carmen April 22 to May 14
  • Price: Tickets range from $21 for the upper balcony to $120 for front orchestra, front mezzanine or mezzanine boxes
  • Information: To order tickets call (800) 741-1010 or visit www.fgo.org on the Web

Neither Figaro nor the Count lets this fiasco discourage them. They come up with a new disguise in Act II. The Count enters the Doctor's house as a subservient music teacher, supposedly sent in the place of Don Basilio, who is said to be sick. The only problem, of course, is that Don Basilio is not really sick, and he promptly shows up in the house. The Count, Figaro, and Rosina all convince him that he has scarlet fever and usher him out of the house, even though Dr. Bartolo is standing in the same room.

Figaro and the Count get the key to Rosina's balcony and the stage is set for the final farce of the comedy. Figaro co-opts the notary sent for by Bartolo and gets Don Basilio to witness the marriage of the Count and Rosina. The Doctor arrives too late, but since this is a comedy, everybody winds up happy. The Count gets Rosina, the Doctor gets her fortune. And Figaro, of course, gets the undying favor and sponsorship of the Count.

Sally Wolf, who sings the part of Berta the housekeeper, should be mentioned for her strong performance. Her aria about old men marrying young women reaches the obvious conclusion, "They are both crazy."

If you are crazy about opera, a performance by the Florida Grand Opera is a treat not to be missed. Its next production, Verdi's Rigoletto, is coming up March 18 to April 8 and Carmen will be performed April 22 to May 14 at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts.

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