Connecticut Lyric Opera's 'Barber of Seville' at Conn College mixes pratfalls with fine singing

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New London — Since its premiere nearly 200 years ago, Rossini’s “The Barber of Seville” has survived countless stagings and interpretations to remain firmly lodged at the heart of the opera repertoire. Its broad comic characters, propulsive score, raucous ensembles and showy arias have kept it a favorite for singers and audiences alike.

Friday night at Evans Hall at Connecticut College, the Connecticut Lyric Opera put together the right cast and set them loose for an evening of pure entertainment and a reminder that this old friend is alive and well.

The story of the pompous old fool who tries to compete with a dashing youth for the hand of the young girl is the stuff of many an operatic comedy, and the CLO cast clearly had great fun inhabiting these stock characters. In the cozy confines of the 450-seat hall, not a single arched eyebrow or sigh was wasted.

The overture, some of the world’s best known orchestral music, announced that once again, Artistic Director Adrian Sylveen and his Connecticut Virtuosi Chamber Orchestra would set the tone. The downsize ensemble of just 20 pieces, played big (at times, too big, obscuring the voices onstage) in a reading that was generally quick, crisp and playful.

Central to the success of Friday’s performance were a pair of CLO newcomers — bass-baritone Jimi James as the suspicious old Dr. Bartolo and Nadia Aguilar as the love interest Rosina — and a company staple, baritone Luke Scott as Don Basilio.

Blustering around the stage on rickety bowed legs, raging beneath his elaborate wig and filling the hall with a dominating vocal power, James’ acting (and his pratfalls!) seemed to inspire those around him. His first act rage aria “A un dottor della mia sorte,” with its breath-defying patter singing, was a high point of the evening.

Aguilar was perfectly cast as Rosina. Small and pretty, the Mexican-born soprano had both the voice and characterization to fully inhabit a character that is often fairly hollow. For starters, she clearly delighted in the florid coloratura of her role, and she projected a sense of true pleasure in the most technical roulades, often batting her eyes and beaming at the end of phrases. Her animated expressions, her asides and double takes, brought the comedy to life.

And as Don Basilio, Bartolo’s inept co-conspirator at controlling Rosina, company stalwart baritone Scott was vocally centered throughout. In the title role, baritone Dean Murphy was Scott’s equal, singing with a bright, ringing tone that seemed to embody his raffish character.

As Rosina’s age-appropriate suitor, Count Almaviva, tenor Christopher Lucier had a lot of fun with his several vocal disguises, but his singing was unfocused (at times lost in ensembles) as he careened through the coloratura.

The sets were minimal, but sets would have merely gotten in the way of all the stage antics. CLO prima donna soprano Jurate Svedaite was stage director, and she choreographed some excellent footwork for the long Act 1 sextet, that carried the part singing into the stagecraft.

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