(This review is written by American-Statesman freelance arts critic Luke Quinton.)
Cue the Bugs Bunny references: Austin Opera’s season finale, playing through May 1 at the Long Center, is Rossini’s ultimate classic comedic opera, “The Barber of Seville.”
The opera’s instantly recognizable music and vocal solos (“Figaro, Fi-ga-ro Fiiiii-ga-rooooo!”) operate as shorthand for opera the world over. If ever you’ve considered dabbling a toe into the opera world, “Barber” is an excellent occasion to take the plunge. Not least because Rossini’s masterpiece is an operatic rarity: a deeply entertaining work with an airtight plot that actually makes sense.
The story at a glance features a love-stricken count, whose beloved Rosina is under lock and key at the home of Dr. Bartolo. Enter the entrepreneurial barber Figaro, who, for a fee, plays matchmaker by devising a scheme that allows the count access into Bartolo’s home, so he can explain to Rosina his intentions. The schemes find the count putting his acting chops to the test, as a drunken soldier, among other characters.
The action on stage is a pleasure to watch, largely due to the acting of Troy Cook, as the barber. Though Cook’s baritone isn’t especially strong, his comic timing — with knowing glances at the audience, at just the right moments — is a perfect fit for this meta-comedy, and earns real laughs.
Buffering Cook’s Figaro are a trio of Austin Opera newcomers: Juan José de Léon as Count Almaviva; Patrick Carfizzi as Dr. Bartolo; and Jennifer Rivera as Rosina.
Carfizzi and de Léon are solid actors with nicely colored voices and excellent projection. Rivera’s voice, however, is on another level altogether, with one of those archetype-worthy tones. Even her spoken voice is a colorful, musical babbling brook.
The orchestra under Conductor Richard Buckley is generally excellent, though at more than a couple occasions singers struggle to wrap mouths around verbally acrobatic passages, of which there are perhaps a handful or more.
The set offers multiple looks and action on stage (directed by Alain Gautier) is vivid, with a nicely coordinated chorus, moving in time across the stage as singers, soldiers and umbrella-holding dancers.
Despite that, the first half felt like a bit of an endurance test. Though, a worthy one, if only for the outstanding libretto, which populates some of the most famous music with characters who are wholly self-aware, and who thrive in wittily mocking tired opera tropes. The moments when characters imitate one another with sarcastic voices, or decide that their hand-to-hand combat is almost too ridiculous to continue, are juicy moments indeed.
With an entertaining cast and solid production, Austin Opera’s “Barber of Seville” is a good night out for both Looney Tunes aficionados and serious opera fans.
Austin Opera’s “Barber of Seville” runs Thursday and May 1.austinopera.org