By Judith Malafronte, Opera News
Musical and dramatic clarity came together perfectly in PortOpera's production of Il Barbiere di Siviglia (July 29) in Portland, Maine's Merrill Auditorium. Giovanni Reggioli led a finely nuanced reading of the overture, using dynamic contrasts and variety of attack to impart a fresh, spontaneous feel to the familiar work. Keeping the strings slightly underbalanced while favoring the wind and brass choirs brought a distinctive color to the ensemble, historically appropriate to Rossini's intentions.
Throughout the performance Reggioli showed himself a masterful stylist, working from memory and maintaining a flexible, attentive beat that kept him attuned to every vocal detail. The singers sounded relaxed and free, obviously comfortable in Reggioli's sure hands; even Berta (strongly played by Alizon Hull) ornamented her repeats with idiomatic verve.
Unencumbered by concepts or cuteness, director Dona D. Vaughn focused on the essentials of storyline and character relationships, bringing her customary knack for using extras inventively to great effect, enriching both narrative and visual texture. Here she introduced a lady's maid for Rosina, a perky and intimate confidante who helped with correspondence, flirted with Figaro, and who — wait a minute, Beaumarchais! — must of course be Susanna, a reminder to some in the audience that Rossini's irrepressible Rosina and ardently amorous Almaviva do indeed grow into the unhappy Count and Countess of Mozart's Le Nozze di Figaro.
Heading the cast was Lucas Meachem as the dapper barber Figaro; although he seemed overly fidgety, his secure top and old-style vocal command were impressive. He made the most of Vaughn's staging of "Freddo ed immobile": while all the characters except Figaro were indeed frozen stiff, he strolled among them, gleefully putting their limbs into wacky and bizarre positions.
The very appealing Victor Ryan Robertson sailed through Almaviva's music fleetly, capping "Ecco ridente" with a fine top C and making his canzone "Se il mio nome" a hilarious send-up of Spanish folksingers. Craig Hart's Basilio was a slightly oblivious dandy, and Daniel Cyr showed vocal and dramatic promise as Fiorello. Jan Opalach played Doctor Bartolo as an exasperated fuss-budget, and his ongoing comic bits (especially his thwarted attempts to sit still for more than two seconds) stopped just short of scene-stealing.
Lauren McNeese sounded and looked both bright and easy in the role of Rosina. She showed unexaggerated grace as a comedian and held her own in the lesson scene alongside Robertson's brilliant antics at the harpsichord, where, in spite of elaborate stage moves, he mimed the accompaniment without missing a beat.