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BWW Review: San Francisco Opera's Drive-In BARBER OF SEVILLE at The Marin Center In San Rafael

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Opera in the safety of Your Car

BWW Review: San Francisco Opera's Drive-In BARBER OF SEVILLE at The Marin Center In San Rafael

BWW Review: San Francisco Opera's Drive-In BARBER OF SEVILLE at The Marin Center In San Rafael On April. 23, 2021, San Francisco Opera presented its first drive-in opera, Rossini's rollicking comedy, The Barber of Seville. As shadows lengthened and the sun traveled toward the horizon, "ushers" in reflective garments guided cars into a specially marked parking lot that kept cars from being directly behind each other. High vehicles were banished to the back and sidelines so those in low cars had full view. Radios were supplied to those whose car radios did not function with the motor turned off.

As the boisterous Spanish hair stylist, baritone Lucas Meachem opened the show with a vigorous, rousing version of his famous "Largo al Factotum". California COVID restrictions limited the show to ninety minutes. Using the Zedda edition of the Ricordi piano/vocal score, Conductor Roderick Cox and Director Matthew Ozawa treated the audience to all the opera's major arias, duets, and ensembles, inserting only the most necessary story telling to bind them into Caron de Beaumarchais's amusing story. They made this transformation by setting the scene as a rehearsal of Rossini's opera which called for the major numbers to be performed. Most importantly, these soloists. achieved a perfect balance with the orchestra which was hidden, miked, and socially distanced, in a white tent behind the stage.

Marcie Stapp's excellent English rhyming translation is a gem and the cast sang it with some of the best diction I've heard in decades. Alexander V. Nichols' set was basically a colorful and well-stocked rehearsal stage that provided props and costumes as needed. Nichols' projections helped tell the story while its characters enchanted the audience with comic action.

Real life married couple Daniela Mack and Alek Shrader were Almaviva and Rosina, a pair of lovers who did not have to stay six feet away from each other. Both proved to be comedians with excellent timing. Mack's rendition of her opening aria "Una voce poco fa" (A Voice a While Ago) amused patrons with its lighthearted lyrics and promises of revenge if crossed, while her clear and accurate coloratura showed the fine points of her technique. Mac's rich mezzo voice rose effortlessly to her high notes and provided low tones of substantial warmth. Her character was a credible young woman whose desire for a good life was not to be thwarted.

As Count Almaviva, Alek Shrader was somewhat tentative when he first came on stage, but after a few minutes he gained his equilibrium and proceeded to thrill the audience with his easily produced high notes. Best of all, he showed himself to be an accomplished comic actor. Shrader's Almaviva captured the audience's attention as the fake music teacher and held it as the drunken soldier.

The combination of Shrader as Almaviva and Meachem as Figaro were a comic juggernaut designed to win over two other excellent singing singers, Philip Skinner as the fast singing Dr. Bartolo and Kenneth Kellogg as the deep resonant bass, Don Basilio. Skinner's patter was fascinating and Kellogg's bass voice was wonderfully rich and smooth. Catherine Cook was an interesting Berta whose substantial voice added weight to the ensembles. Her aria really tells a sad tale and hearing it in English added a bit of respite to the comedic goings on.

Conductor Roderick Cox lit the fires of anticipation in his listeners with the overture and later showed he knew how to display all of Rossini's incredible jewels. His tempi grew faster in the tiniest of increments as it increased in volume. Thus, he took advantage of this composer's ability to entertain audiences for more than two centuries with his comedy in music. Cox seems to have the makings of a fine conductor and I hope to hear more of his work in the near future.

Audience members received "goodie bags" of masks, hand sanitizer, and light sticks before the show. The light sticks were for simulating applause instead of honking horns after arias. The sticks worked during the performance, but the now-familiar sound of cacophonous car horns was most welcome at the end of the performance.

Readers can see The Barber of Seville performed live in English from the safety of their cars at the Marin Center on April 24, 27, 30; May 1, 4, 7, 8, 11, 14, and 15 at 8 PM Pacific Time. Prices range from $50 to $250 for a car full of friends and family. Don't miss the fun.

Enlarged Image of Kenneth Kellogg with cast and Rosina (Mack) with Almaviva (Shrader) by Stefan Cohen for San Francisco Opera.


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