Opening night of the Central City Opera season is always a festival for the senses, and Saturday’s opening production of the Barber of Seville offered a sixth sense; that of hilarity, laughter and hysterical comic shenanigans. The Barber of Seville has Shakespearian comedy undertones, the assumed identities of the lovelorn romantic hero in his desperate attempts to contact his lady love who is imprisoned in a gilded cage on stage. The comic buffoon antics of the irascible, cantankerous, much-deceived guardian of the hapless heroine are actually quite conniving and deceptive under her twittery facade.
Opening night includes all the hoopla of the opera crowd: limousines, tuxedos, evening gowns, debutantes carefully winding the opera house garden steps. The theater is filled with opera buffs who know all the protocol; when to applaud, how to cheer, how to throw the golden roses so they barely miss beaning the stars and how to jump to their feet for a standing ovation, which the Barber cast and orchestra received without hesitation.
The music is familiar and bright with the addition of the lead’s mobile facial expressions that lure the audience into their devious plots. One of the most delightful things about Barber is the fact that, in the five main characters, there is one each of the classic voices; therefore, the score keeps a constant changing pace of solo, duet, trio, quarter and one hysterical sextet in which the singers declare they are going crazy, as soldiers with swords do a chorus line around them. By the middle of this number, buffs in tuxes are slapping their knees at the uproarious chaos taking place on stage.
Barber is an opera in which one can let go of appearances and just have a heck of a good time. It is often suggested as the opera for beginners. Even though the lyrics are in Italian, the drama and choreography is so exaggerated, almost melodrama style, that is obvious what the characters are expressing.
The stage movement of Saturday’s performance was flawless. It can be difficult for many directors to make comic opera look natural, but Marc Astafan succeeded.
From the moment Figaro bounces onto the stage, it is obvious that he, played by baritone Daniel Belcher, will run the show. Belcher is the instigator and is a joy to watch because he exudes his joy at being on stage, the catalyst of a romantic plot to join the lovers. Belcher has been on the Central City Opera stage three times since 2001 and was a past Bonfils-Stanton Foundation Apprentice Artist. Recently he played Mercutio in Romeo and Juliette in the Colorado Opera.
Count Almaviva, played by tenor David Portillo, is the operatic love-struck hero who will risk all to be close to his seemingly fragile bird, trapped in the golden set that is the home of the lascivious Bartolo. Portillo’s clear bell of a voice adds to his demeanor of innocence tinged with mischief as he dons his various roles with the intention of getting to his canary. Portillo skillfully mixes the comedy with romance as he courts Rosina.
The lovely, but high-spirited, Rosina is played by mezzo-soprano Jennifer Rivera, who alternately takes on the role of the trodden captive and the devious plotter, as she beguiles the audience into her playful scheming. Both Portillo and Rivera make their debuts on the Central City Opera stage. Their voices blending in joyful conspiracy combined with lust.
Show Stopping Performance
The show-stopping performance, however, was presented by Patrick Carfizzi who portrayed the clueless Dr. Bartolo in a Humpty Dumpty sort of clumsiness that added to his comedic demeanor. Grumpy and suspicious, Dr. Bartolo becomes hoodwinked by his charge and her lover, and despite his efforts, admits defeat by the end of the show. His patter aria at the end of Act I drew shouts of approval from the audience, which made him puff up with the praise. Carfizzi’s performance is worth the price of the ticket and will be remembered as a role-defining portrayal of Dr. Bartolo.
The debutantes and the golden roses may not make any more appearances this season, but the freshness and talent of the Barber of Seville will continue through the 2013 run. The Opera will be performed 12 times. For more information or tickets, visit CentralCityOpera.org or call the Box Office at 303-292-6700.