Double your pleasure
If you know a bit about opera, you probably know that Giacomo Rossini composed “The Barber of Seville”. Well, West Edge Opera sets that notion on its ear with the first production of its Doppleganger Season, comprised of two obscure operas based on the same literary sources as two war horses from the opera canon. First up is “The Barber of Seville” composed by Giuseppe Paisiello, which the company premiered at Mills College. It is an offering that the serious opera buff will value.
First – a little historical perspective. Paisiello composed the opera in 1782, while court composer for Russia’s Catherine the Great. It was a wild success that was the inspiration for Mozart’s sequel “The Marriage of Figaro,” composed in 1786. However, Rossini offered his version of Barber in 1816, and it soon became the preferred interpretation, with Paisiello’s drifting into obscurity. Clearly, the earlier version must have some merit, yet is has seldom been produced in modern times.
West Edge performs a concert version of Paisiello’s work which reveals its strengths and weaknesses. Its musical idiom is very much of its period, with attractive melody, formalized ensemble pieces, and harpsichord-accompanied recitatives. Like Rossini’s version, romance takes a back seat to comedy, and this one includes a humorous trio punctuated by one singer’s sneezes and another’s yawns, as well as ensembles with rotating pizzicatas. But while it is highly listenable and charming, what it lacks compared to Rossini’s is signature tunes that you might hear on an opera compilation album – no “Largo al factotum” or “Una voce poco fa” or “La calunnia.” Notably, Paisiello’s does have an interesting aria with similar content, rhythm, and repetition of the word calunnia (scandal). Rossini was renowned for recycling his own past material in newer operas, but it seems he may have mined other sources as well.
Lacking staging and costumes, we miss the pageantry associated with opera in this Jonathan Khuner directed production. But anyone who has seen Rossini’s Barber can map remembrances of its production values onto this score. What West Edge does offer is a cast of fine singers led by Nikolas Nackley, who not only sings Figaro with warmth and depth, but acts credibly with charm and humor. Carl King also brings a big bass voice and great humor to Bartolo’s role, which seems to be even larger than Figaro’s. Jonathan Smucker and Sara Duchovnay play the lovers Count Almaviva and Rosina. Each does quite well, but Smucker was a little inconsistent in the high end of his range, and a lighter soprano voice might align better with the role of Rosina. Of the smaller parts, Ben Kazez deserves the first nod for quality performance as Basilio.
Voices are supported by a four-piece orchestra conducted by Khuner, who also plays two keyboards. The musicians provide a fine sound, and the minor glitches and occasional phasing issues are to be expected when musicians prepare for a two performance run. The show should be appreciated for what it is, not against the standard of a full-blown production.
“The Barber of Seville” composed by Giuseppe Paisiello is produced by West Edge Opera and has one remaining performance at Freight and Salvage, 2020 Addison St, Berkeley, on Tuesday, February 9.