Rossini’s whimsically profound music mingles beautifully with humorously surrealistic images borrowed from Magritte in the Dallas Opera’s current production of The Barber of Seville, which opened Friday night at Winspear Opera House. Indeed, in this radiant and unfailingly humorous version, this comical tale of human folly and the triumph of young love takes on a delightfully dreamlike aura that keeps the audience laughing—without neglecting elements of subtle psychology.
Michael Stennett’s costumes and John Conklin’s scenery, rife with Magritte-esque sky blues and plum reds (and, of course, Magritte-esque umbrellas, clouds, the moon, and floating ladders), provide the perfect context for director Herb Kellner’s hyper-active staging, the border-line slapstick of which served for more than just poking the viewer’s funny bone. There’s plenty of exploration of class, concealment, and revelation here between punch lines; the final moments of Act I are particularly successful in broadening the scope into a striking depiction of haphazard humanity—with a heartwarming visual tribute to the composer thrown in.
As Figaro, baritone Nathan Gunn began the evening just a touch tentatively vocally before warming into an extraordinarily charming and convincing rendition of the world’s most famous barber; a bit of horseplay in Act II (along with the sequined jacket he wore) gave this presentation of the role a hint of gay for those audience members who might care to find that there. Mezzo-soprano Isabel Leonard, a rapidly rising star in the operatic world, brought a wonderfully rich tone and perfect bel canto flexibility to the character of Rosina, playing up the willful post-adolescent aspect. Tenor Alek Shrader matched her as the lovestruck Count Almaviva; his top range is gorgeous and secure, though, surprisingly, his middle and lower range was at times less successful. Bass Donato Di Stefano provided a loveably cartoonish rendition of the lecherous Dr. Bartolo, while soprano Jennifer Aylmer transformed into a dowdy old serving woman (with hints of a secret life of her own) as Berta.
Conductor Giuliano Carella kept the masterfully lyrical score—at times Rossini out-Mozarts Mozart—moving clearly and resolutely.
With the company’s often breathtaking production of Korngold’s Die tote Stadt running in tandem with this luminous production of Barber of Seville, Dallas almost feels like a real opera town again; consecutive opening nights for two Fridays in a row was a pleasant if short-lived experience. Next year, Dallas Opera will be up from five productions this year to six, but I can’t help thinking that our beautiful, incredible new opera house could—and really should—be home to eight or nine or ten productions every year.