Thoughts in a nutshell: Whimsical set, absurdly silly plot, but absolutely charming and delightful (e.g. the well-toned baritone Nathan Gunn as Figaro).
The Daily Herald writes:
Lyric warms the heart with ‘The Barber’
One of the masterpieces of comic opera, Gioachino Rossini’s “The Barber of Seville” (Il Barbiere di Siviglia) is back at Lyric Opera of Chicago, and a most welcome return it is based on Saturday’s well-received opening-night performance.
This is the Lyric’s own John Conklin-designed production, last seen here in the 2000-01 season, with its creative sets that combine late 18th century Spanish furnishings and costumes with a series of impressionistic, brightly colored scenic “drops” and scrims designed to silently come and go throughout the evening. This is real operatic eye candy, and it is supported by a musical performance conducted with flair by Italian maestro Donato Renzetti.
In a season in which last-minute cast changes have been frequent at the Lyric, the company hit the jackpot with Iowa native John Osborn, who took on the challenging tenor role of Count Almaviva after Juan Diego Florez was forced to cancel all performances for a least a month on doctor’s orders. Osborn has portrayed the Count at New York’s Metropolitan Opera as well as in Vienna, Berlin, San Francisco and several other major opera houses. He’ll take his well-honed interpretation to Dresden, Germany, later this year.
One of the high points of the opera is the music-lesson scene in Act 2, when the count, disguised as a music teacher, makes a romantic play for Rosina, portrayed by American mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato in her Lyric Opera debut. The pair’s performance just glistens, with DiDonato also giving a heartfelt interpretation of her earlier aria “Una voce poco fa,” in which she swears her love to “Lindoro” – Count Almaviva in disguise.
Of course, this character-in-disguise plot element is common to operas from Mozart to Verdi – the latter’s “Falstaff” fits that description and is playing at the Lyric through Feb. 23.
American baritone Nathan Gunn, one of his generation’s genuine operatic superstars, was seen here as Guglielmo in Mozart’s “Cosi fan tutte” last season, and he was a sensation in the title role of the Lyric’s acclaimed production of “Billy Budd” six years ago. Gunn really revels in his energetic portrayal of Figaro, the well-intentioned, but somewhat misguided Barber of Seville of the title. A handful of arias have transcended the world of the opera house and entered popular culture. Figaro’s first-act “Largo al factotum” is so well known that it has been heard in movies, TV commercials, cartoon spoofs and the like. Gunn brought the house down Saturday night in performing this tongue-twisting scene, in which he awakens in his second-floor bedroom, glides down a firemen’s pole and prepares for another day’s work.
Although the weather remains chilly – after all, it’s February – the Lyric’s “Barber of Seville” is destined to warm your heart.