BWW Reviews: In the Battle of the BARBIEREs, On Site Opera Picks a Winner

BWW Reviews: In the Battle of the BARBIEREs, On Site Opera Picks a Winner
David Blalock as Almaviva with Monica Yunus (in window)
in the Fabbri Mansion courtyard
BWW Reviews: In the Battle of the BARBIEREs, On Site Opera Picks a Winner
Soprano Monica Yunus as Rosina, baritone Andrew Wilkowske as Figaro

Pity the poor also-rans in operatic history: Leoncavallo's LA BOHEME and Rossini's OTELLO are perhaps the most famous titles. Oh, yes: We mustn't forget Giovanni Paisiello's IL BARBIERE DI SIVIGLIA--and after hearing On Site Opera's production in New York last week, we can't. Downstairs, upstairs, in milady's library, On Site introduced much of its audience last week to an "alternative universe" version of the Almavivas and the wily barber, Figaro, in a BARBIERE composed decades before the familiar version by Rossini.

Based on the same play by Beaumarchais, the first part of the Figaro Trilogy, this is a different animal altogether from its more familiar cousin: A pocket opera that manages to make all its points with a cast of seven, a chamber orchestra and, in Artistic Director Eric Einhorn's very appealing production staged in the Renaissance-style Fabbri Mansion on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, it was a sheer delight.

BWW Reviews: In the Battle of the BARBIEREs, On Site Opera Picks a Winner
Monica Yunus, David Blalock, Isaiah Musik-Ayala and Andrew Wilkowske in the Fabbri Mansion library

Today, the version of the story by Paisiello has long been overshadowed by the uber-famous Rossini opera in the battle of the BARBIEREs. It's hard to believe that, at the start of the 19th century, the operatic version of BARBIERE that everyone was humming was by Paisiello. It was so popular that Rossini's audacity in composing a competitive version--first called ALMAVIVA--was incomprehensible.

Indeed, Paisiello's opera has a score that's not without its charms--particularly in a pair of arias for Rosina, performed wonderfully by soprano Monica Yunus, and its buoyant, hilariously evil version of "La calunnia" from the sonorous Basilio of bass-baritone Isaiah Musik-Ayala. The cast, in general, showed off the score's strengths: David Blalock's lovely tenor was just right and appropriately droll as Almaviva, while the smooth baritone of Andrew Wilkowske made the most of Figaro, who is less central here than in Rossini. The Dr. Bartolo conceived by librettist Giuseppe Petrosellini is just as big a blowhard in this version of the story and bass-baritone Rod Nelman milks the comedy without going overboard. The cast is rounded out by neat performances from baritone Benjamin Bloomfield and soprano Jessica Rose Futran as the servants.

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Richard Sasanow Richard Sasanow is a long-time writer on art, music, food, travel and international business for publications including The New York Times, The Guardian (UK), Town & Country and Travel & Leisure, among many others. He also interviewed some of the great singers of the 20th century for the programs at the San Francisco Opera and San Diego Opera and worked on US tours of the Orchestre National de France and Vienna State Opera, conducted by Lorin Maazel, Zubin Mehta and Leonard Bernstein.