Lyric Opera has married pitch-perfect casting to go-for-broke direction in its season opener, The Barber of Seville. Thanks to that, and Gioachino Rossini’s brilliant score, this 200-year-old satire, peopled with what could be stock characters in a conventional plot of forbidden but victorious young love, bounces uproariously to life.
First, the cast: Mezzo-soprano Marianne Crebassa—she of the liquid-silver voice and sterling dramatic chops—is the opera’s gutsy ingenue, Rosina. Lawrence Brownlee brings his celebrated agile tenor and comic gusto to the role of her true love (disguised as a penniless suitor), Count Almaviva. Bass-baritone Adam Plachetka is a dominating presence, vocally and dramatically, as Figaro—the resourceful if hapless barber/fixer of the title, who brings them together. Bass Krzysztof Bączyk, with a voice as deep as he is tall, is Rosina’s droll music teacher, and soprano Mathilda Edge is the doctor’s loveless-and-missing-it maid.
And then there’s baritone Alessandro Corbelli, whose fabulously expressive mug conveys in a deadpan glance everything you need to know about Rosina’s scheming old fool of a guardian, Dr. Bartolo, who wants to marry her himself, for her dowry.
Broadway director-choreographer Rob Ashford was in charge when this production first opened at Lyric in the 2013-’14 season, and Tara Faircloth has stepped in for the revival, which is still choreographed to within an inch of its life. There’s broad physical humor, replete with pratfalls, cloying mannerisms, and more or less perpetual motion. But in a production that sets out to make fun of opera as a “boring and pretentious” art form, it works (unlike Ashford’s distracting direction of Carmen here three years ago).
Sets by Scott Pask employ just enough wrought iron and arches to set the action in old Seville, and on opening night Andrew Davis, whose retirement after next season has just been announced, led a nuanced and jubilant performance by this terrific cast and the Lyric orchestra and chorus of a score that prances from breakneck patter pieces and delicate recitative to Rossini’s famous chest-pounding crescendos.
Altogether—as I heard one departing patron tell another after the opening night bows—this is as much fun as you can have at the opera. v