BWW Review: WASHINGTON NATIONAL OPERA: THE BARBER OF SEVILLE at Kennedy Center
"Barber of Seville" is an incredibly popular opera - so much so that even people who aren't familiar with opera would recognize the famous overture or the refrain of "Figaro" that many associate with the genre itself. It's ubiquitous, so deeply a part of our culture that we feel as though we've been aware of it our entire lives.
The music from "Barber" also holds a special place for me, personally. In my near decade-long tenure as a viola player, learning to play the overture stands out as one of the first times I really enjoyed and connected with the music. As the orchestra at the Kennedy Center started, I could hear my late music teacher, Mrs. Wilson, reminding us to remember to bounce our bows. And I suddenly felt nervous for the performance I was about to see. I realized that I'm one of many people who have memories tied to this show, and sometimes the expectations are so high that it is impossible for a production to live up to them.
It turns out I needn't have worried.
The Washington National Opera's latest staging of "The Barber of Seville" is, in a word, fantastic. From the opening notes, the audience is transported to a street in Seville where the young Count Almaviva (Taylor Stayton) is unsuccessfully attempting to garner the attention of a woman he stalked from Madrid by paying locals to serenade her. But it's hard to really fixate on this slightly disturbing variation of "Say Anything" or Secondhand Serenade for long - almost immediately after the disappointed Count dismisses his assistants, Figaro, the titular character, makes his way down the aisle of the theatre, onto the stage, and into our hearts.
From his bold and flashy entrance to the very last bow, Figaro steals every scene he even passingly graces. Andrey Zhilikhovsky has an incredible baritone voice and plays the cocksure barber winningly. Figaro is that overly confident friend who constantly gets you into trouble, but always manages to have everything work out in the end and you can't help but love him for it. His scheming with the Count (complete with dance steps) is comically entertaining, and his mimicry of nearly every character on stage throughout the play keeps the audience in stitches.
The object of the Count's affection, Rosina (played by Isabel Leonard), is no wilting flower waiting for the men to figure things out. Her character's first solo number - in which she assures the audience that she's a good, obedient girl who's a viper if crossed - delighted the audience and set the expectations for the bold, sassy character who is second only to Figaro in her antics and mockery of her sleazy and scheming guardian, Dr. Bartolo (played wonderfully by Paolo Bordogna).
At the end of the first act, Figaro and the Count's scheme to secure Rosina under Dr. Bartolo's nose culminates in an incredibly well choreographed and comically timed number. The visual gags provided by the ensemble could have easily overshadowed the characters in the foreground, but nothing feels lost and the cast seems to thrive in the perfect chaos. Act Two focused more heavily on the main cast - most notably giving Stayton's Count a chance to truly shine. But, whether there were two characters or a roomful of police officers on stage, each scene was still carefully coordinated - the movements were precise, the jokes were strong, and the only disappointment in the happy ending was that it needed to end.
Sometimes, classics are dangerous production choices. But sometimes they're reminders of why we love a story in the first place. Washington National Opera's "Barber of Seville" is most decidedly the latter.
"Barber of Seville" runs through May 19, 2018.
Photo Credit: Scott Suchman