After the conflicted emotional tempest of Mozart’s Don Giovanni, Los Angeles Opera’s production of Rossini’s The Barber of Seville burst onstage at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion on Saturday like a rainbow after the storm. Not only does it feature a cast that looks great and sounds great, under the direction of Broadway musical veteran Rob Ashford, the singers were also clearly having a great time.
Ashford’s direction does not let a moment go to waste. The singers skillfully combine Rossini’s bel canto fireworks with the type of comic frolics you expect from a Broadway musical. “We’re all in this together,” the cast seemed to be saying. “Sit back and enjoy the ride.”
Mezzo-soprano Isabel Leonard was given the challenging task of bringing Donna Elvira to life in LA Opera’s Don Giovanni. Her Rosina here could not have been more of a contrast, a light-as-air coloratura star turn. Spicy, seductive, and clever, she is the ideal co-conspirator for baritone Joshua Hopkins as the jack-of-all-trades Figaro. And in the dashing tenor Edgardo Rocha, she finds a dream-come-true Count Almaviva. The man in their sights is bass-baritone Paolo Bordogna as Rosina’s guardian and would-be husband, Dr. Bartolo.
Rossini’s music, with its ever-shifting clockwork of tempos, soaring vocal lines, and mountainous crescendos, requires a cast of the most technically adroit singers. To have a cast that can embody the characters, sing the roles beautifully, and at the same time have so much fun doing it is a blessing. It clearly was for opening night’s conductor, Louis Lohraseb, who imbued the performance with patter perfection.
From the moment Rocha made his entrance to serenade his sequestered Rosina (“Ecco, ridente in cielo”), he connected with the audience. He posed and postured until his found his perfect close-up. Rocha possesses everything an opera company could desire in a tenor: tall, handsome, comic timing, and a powerful voice filled with color. (Whether he possesses the temperament for darker drama or a ringing high C is yet to be determined.) After the success of this debut, LA Opera would be smart to ink him for multiple future engagements.
Leonard made her grand entrance with a mellifluous rendition of “Una voce poco fa.” Throughout the performance her voice melded beautifully with Rocha’s — they definitely had chemistry while taking delight in thwarting the pompous Bartolo.
From his self-proclaiming opening aria, “Largo al factotum,” Hopkins displayed an abundance of vocal power as a big-spirited, happy-go-lucky Figaro. Crowned with a wig resembling cuckold’s horns, Bordogna played Bartolo for every comic moment available and then some, all to the audience’s delight.
Every role in this production is played like it’s the lead: bass Luca Pisaroni as the pedantic music teacher Don Basilio, baritone Ryan Wolfe as Fiorello, and soprano Kathleen O’Mara, who certainly made the most of her single aria, as the maid Berta.
Scott Pask’s Seville-style set, with its multiple stairways, balconies, and doors, was ideally suited for farce as the action merrily rolled along, accentuated by Catherine Zuber’s period Spanish costumes.
At the end, ovations abounded. Hopefully, these singers, particularly Rocha, along with director Ashford, will return soon. Performances run through Nov. 12.