Utah Opera is closing its season in boisterous fashion with Rossini’s “The Barber of Seville.”
If you’ve never attended an opera, this production would be a great place to start. The strong cast has excellent chemistry, there’s plenty of fancy vocal technique and the humor is abundant and accessible.
Soprano Celena Shafer, a longtime Utah Opera favorite, gave another dazzling performance as Rosina on Saturday. The role was written for a mezzo-soprano, but only the most territorial mezzo could object to loaning it to a singer of Shafer’s caliber once in a while. She embellished every aria generously — but never gratuitously — with sparkling pinpoint accuracy.
Robert McPherson’s performance as Count Almaviva was opening night’s best surprise. Operatic tenors seldom get to be smart and funny, so McPherson made the most of his opportunity. Once he loosened up and hit his stride, he commanded the stage with a big, bright voice and sharp comedic skills.
Will Liverman sang the title role with warmth and a hint of mischief. (His clowning with a quartet of children during his well-known entrance aria, “Largo al factotum,” is one of the cutest things you’re likely to see on an opera stage.) It’s generally difficult for a baritone voice to cut through the orchestra, but Liverman was more successful on that account as the evening went on.
Tara Faircloth’s stage direction implied that Figaro and Almaviva hadn’t always been on good terms, but Liverman and McPherson had such appealing chemistry that even their recitatives (the speechlike singing that carries the narrative weight between arias) were comic gold. The friendship between Figaro and Rosina and the budding romance between Rosina and Almaviva also were well-played.
Basso buffo Michael Wanko played Dr. Bartolo, the bumbling older man who has his sights set on Rosina. Wanko had some uncharacteristic timing issues in his patter song, but his flair for physical comedy was strong. Bass Ryan Speedo Green was equally amusing as the music master Don Basilio, whose “slander” aria was one of the evening’s highlights.
Mezzo Sishel Claverie added some of the show’s funniest details in her performance as Berta, the housemaid with a drinking problem. Shea Owens and Tyler Oliphant rounded out the cast admirably as Fiorello and the Sergeant, respectively. And the men of the Utah Opera Chorus gave departing chorus master Susanne Sheston a first-rate sendoff.
Jerry Steichen, the Utah Symphony’s principal pops conductor, got another fine performance out of the orchestra — and, as a fun bonus, he tossed in a few musical jokes in his subsidiary role as harpsichordist.
Utah Opera’s design team has put together another great-looking production. Nicholas Cavallaro’s lighting earned its own round of applause in the second scene of Act I, and seldom have a costume and wig said more about a character than Dr. Bartolo’s did. Props to Susan Memmott Allred and Yancey Quick on those counts.
Utah Opera • ‘The Barber of Seville’
P Where • Capitol Theatre, 50 W. 200 South.
When • Reviewed Saturday; performances continue Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 7:30 p.m., with a 2 p.m. matinee Sunday.
Tickets • $13 to $83 ($5 more on performance day) at 801-355-ARTS, the box office or utahopera.com.
Running time • 3 hours, including intermission.
In a nutshell • A young couple and a resourceful barber plot to outwit the older man who wishes to marry the young woman.
Learn more • Utah Opera principal coach Carol Anderson will give free lectures one hour before curtain, and artistic director Christopher McBeth will lead a Q&A after each performance.