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Lyric Opera of Chicago's first new production in 25 years of Rossini 's II barbiere di Sivtszlia (seen Feb. 1) was by and large a success, thanks mostly to the conducting of Michele Mariotti and the Rosina of Isabel Leonard, both in their Lyric debuts. Mariotti is a real find. The overture was taken at a breakneck pace, but once past the finish line, his work was most sympathetic to the singers and surprisingly full of nuance (badly needed in this score). Ever since its first Barbiere in 1954, Lyric has always used a mezzo-soprano for Rosina (except for a few performances by soprano Isabel Bayra kdarian, who did, however, perform it in the original keys). Leonard is a striking beauty, both on- and offstage. Moreover, her voice is not only smooth and warm, but delightfully accurate in rapid passages. And her acting was gratefully free of coyness.

Director/choreographer Rob Ashford has worked predominantly in theater and this was his first opera. He invented no strange concepts, though a dozen or so lackies prancing through Dr. Bartolo's household added little to what was otherwise a straightforward, unobtrusive staging. The costumes of Catherine Zuber and set designs of Scott Pask were extremely pretty, though 1 wonder if the extensive use of wrought-iron gates against a neutral cyclorama dominating both sets prevented the sound from projecting well, even to the seventh row. This was especially true in the first scene. There was improvement later; perhaps the singers-or my ears-adjusted.

The Figaro of Nathan Gunn and Count of Alex Schrader initially sounded unremarkable, nor was Schrader up to the strenuous Almaviva aria restored to the finale. Alessandro Corbel was immensely funny as Banalo, while Kyle Ketelsen's fine bass was a pleasure as Bartolo, neither overdoing the comic business. Berta is usually given to a mezzo, but since Rosina commandeered that range here, Canadian soprano Tracy Can tin got the assignment. Gamin is not a character singer (she has covered the roles of Desdemona, Rosa-linde and Rusalka this season), but sang her aria delectably and, in the Act I finale, taking the musical line soprano Rosina usually sings, her voice soared impressively.
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Title Annotation:UNITED STATES
Author:Covello, Richard
Publication:Opera Canada
Date:Mar 22, 2014
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