Each year, Gioachino Rossini’s “The Barber of Seville” is among the top 10 most-performed operas because it overflows with bouncing melodies and evergreen humor.
But many productions go with the principle that the sillier and gag-laden the better. N.C. Opera’s staging, on the other hand, deserves great credit for focusing on the work’s inherent human comedy while filling it with beautiful voices and elegant music making.
This different emphasis is announced right away with designer John Conklin’s striking semi-abstract sets. In the first scene, Count Almaviva serenades his newfound love Rosina at her balcony in early morning, the clever forced perspective bathed in brilliant blue light from designer Jeff Harris.
From there, various rooms in Dr. Bartolo’s house, where his ward Rosina is locked away from suitors, roll on, backed by colorful, outsized wallpaper. Howard Tsvi Kaplan’s richly appointed costumes add pleasing detail.
The cast is admirably even, starting with Troy Cook’s Figaro, the title barber who helps Almaviva win Rosina. Cook deploys his warm, easily produced baritone with charming character and sly wit. Andrew Owens’ facile tenor and marvelous range of expressions keep his Almaviva constantly amusing. The role of Dr. Bartolo is prone to being overplayed but bass-baritone Tyler Simpson knows where to draw the line, using his fine voice and confident body language to hilarious advantage.
Rosina is often stereotyped as a saucy flirt but mezzo Cecelia Hall acts and sings the part more naturally, an infatuated young woman willing to collude in her release. Adam Lau employs his booming bass humorously as music teacher Don Basilio, while Marie Ashley gives housemaid Berta a knockabout personality.
Stage director Stephanie Havey brings out many inventive comic moments, but falls back on traditional stereotypes for silent servant Ambrogio (a willing Joseph Stephens) and the men’s chorus.
Conductor Timothy Myers takes a highly lyrical approach to the score, the orchestra responding with a refinement rarely heard in this work. Myers lets the big rhythmic ensembles rip, but takes the necessary fizz out of several duets and scenes in stressing the music’s beautiful lines.
Nevertheless, Friday’s audience responded warmly, a concentrated stillness (between loud peals of laughter) proving its engagement. Sunday’s repeat can readily be recommended to fans and newcomers alike.
If you go
What: “The Barber of Seville,” presented by N.C. Opera
Where: Memorial Auditorium, Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts, 2 East South Street, Raleigh
When: 3 p.m. Sunday
Info: 919-792-3853 or ncopera.org