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A big “thumbs up” for this solid, colorful, thoroughly professional and eminently enjoyable production of Rossini’s delightful, “Barber of Seville.”
THE BARBER OF SEVILLE
LAKE GEORGE OPERA
JULY 8, 2006
Review: Paul Joseph Walkowski
Resolved: next year we will be sure to align our schedule to do at least two Lake George Opera productions: “La Boheme” and “La Vie Parisienne.” Why? Because this year we saw only one production: Rossini’s,“Barber of Seville” and it surpassed all expectations in every area that we rate opera productions.
The comic two act opera about a determined count (Almaviva) willing to go to almost any length to win the hand and heart of the lovely Rosina, over the equally determined objections of her guardian (and husband hopeful) Dr. Bartolo, is a sure crowd pleaser both musically and, if done right, artistically. And here, Lake George Opera did it right on all counts with a production and cast that was more than up to the task, in a setting that was a real charmer, the 500 or so seat Spa Little Theater at Saratoga National Park, New York.
To attend this opera I drove three hours out and three hours back from Boston on a clear sailing road (all Interstate). A more direct line from one place to another you can’t find. The Spa Little Theater is a cinch to locate and once you find it, it is hypnotic in its lure and surroundings. If you decide to give this lovely opera house (performing arts center) a try, plan on spending the day and night. The park is absolutely beautiful, the surrounding hills and roads are open and scenic, and there are plenty of traveler friendly motels to make one’s stay memorable.
As for the production:
The coziness of the theater with its stadium seating from about the fifteenth row back (what they call the balcony) is the best place to view the production because the projected supertitles by Michael Chadwick are above the stage and, unlike some theaters, easy to read. For this production the scenic design by Garett E. Wilson was superb: nice 3-D solidly constructed sets with backlighting, working balconies for the town square and a revolving side set that transformed the viewer from outside to inside while the performance continued. It was a nice piece of unobtrusive stage work and deserving of high praise. This is what smart theater is all about.
Complimenting the sets was some truly wonderful lighting by David Yergan. Yergan lit not only the stage and sets – at times differently, but his spots followed the singers and gave each his or her own attention, above and beyond whatever the set required. Here, the lighting was fluid and changed frequently as the scene called for it. It’s one of those things an audience may or may not notice, but unquestionably appreciates when it contributes to the naturalness of the production. The lighting here was outstanding, never harsh, never dark – always just pleasingly right!
Another bonus was the costumes by Alan Michael Smith and Hair and Make-up by Sondra Nottingham. Superb! The costumes in this production didn’t look like costumes at all (and the same can be said for the make-up and hair). The director, Jose Maria Condemi, blended the entire production into a single whole so that no one part ever looked out of place or detracted from the quality of this truly entertaining summer opera production.
And the performances, to the character they were outstanding. The 34-piece orchestra, under the direction of John Douglas, was situated on a second level, behind the town’s arching wall. It blended perfectly into the background and not only had a big orchestra sound, but never took away from what was occurring below on stage. It is an ingenious way to place an orchestra when there is no pit. As for the sound, in this case – deep, resonant and full -- was perfectly balanced and complimentary, just like every other facet of this production. Well done!
While this ensemble had many “stars” the standout would have to be baritone Kyle Pfortmiller’s animated and lively Figaro. Pfortmiller’s voice packs a wallop and coupled with a strong and darkly handsome stage presence, sets this singer apart whenever he is on stage. It would be interesting to hear and see him in some of the darker Verdi baritone roles. His performance here was electric, both amplifying the light humor that is the Barber and adding to it his own touch of sex appeal, that is palpably noticable.
As his “student” in the ways of courting a woman, tenor Matthew Chellis, singing the role of Count Almaviva, delivered a strong performance both vocally and visually, showing both the ability to sing the role of romantic lead and “head-over-heels in love” suitor who will take on any disguise and play any role in pursuit of the woman of his dreams. Nicely, done!
And speaking of nicely done, mezzo-soprano Valerie Komar’s Rosina was sensual, passionate and a delight in an innocent sort of way. Ms. Komar is where opera should look if it wants to attract younger audiences: she is tall, erect in her bearing, slender, and has that come hither, smooth mezzo sound that is so appealing, especially when singing against an equally matched soprano. In this case, Rossini, gave us only one other female voice to the ensemble, the lovely soprano Laura Pfortmiller, singing the role of missing-front-tooth house maid, Berta. Although Ms. Pfortmiller’s character didn’t have a lot of stage time, she clearly has a solid and delightful soprano tone and used the stage time she had well to add her own pipe smoking stamp to the character Rossini wrote. Brava!
Bass Matthew Lau’s character, the ever hopeful but outgunned Dr. Bartolo, presented another example of perfect matching of singer to role. Mr. Lau’s Bartolo was pompous and, in his own way, a likeable sort of guy that was just a little outside his romantic league when it came to courting Rosina who had her gaze fixed elsewhere. This is one of those bass roles that allows a flexible singer to really join the cast, as opposed to being outside the usual action or merely commenting or observing from afar. Bartolo is integral to everything that is gong on on stage and this singing role asks a lot of a bass. Mr. Lau delivered a solid singing and an equally polished stage performance and in so doing added immeasurably to the pleasure that was this Barber.
Equally strong performances were delivered from an outstanding ensemble cast: Samuel Smith singing Basilio; Matthew Hayward singing the part of Fiorello; John Tsotsoros, singing the role of the army officer, and Nephi Sanchez singing the part of the Notary.
I would be remiss if I didn’t compliment the chorus of singing musicians and soldiers who, from the start, added depth and artistry to what has to be considered an outstanding cast and production in every way.
Lake George Opera deserves a big “thumbs up” for this solid, colorful, thoroughly professional and eminently enjoyable production of Rossini’s delightful, “Barber of Seville.” I can’t wait for next season to make this one day trip an overnighter and a sure to be entertaining two-for.
Conductor, John Douglas
Director, Jose Maria Condemi
Scenic design, Garett E. Wilson
Costume Design, Alan Michael Smith
Lighting, David Yergan
Hair and Make-Up, Sondra Nottingham
Stage Manager, Kathleen S. Stakenas
Supertitles, Michael Chadwick
The Spa Little Theater at Saratoga National Park
Lake George Opera
Valerie Komar as Rosina