FL MORRIS / FMORRIS@STARBULLETIN.COM
Zachary Stains, left, is Count Almaviva and Stephen Powell stars as Figaro the Barber in Hawaii Opera Theatre's production of "The Barber of Seville."
‘Barber’ lacks ingredients to succeed
Revamping a superpopular and overperformed comic opera is not an easy task. How do you tell the same joke -- even a funny one -- without being boring? I guess you could add details, master your delivery and take your time before shooting the punch line.
'The Barber of Seville'
Presented by Hawaii Opera Theatre:
» On stage: 4 p.m. today and 7:30 p.m. Tuesday
» Place: Blaisdell Concert Hall
» Tickets: $29 to $120
» Call: 596-7858 or visit hawaiiopera.org
Because Rossini's "The Barber of Seville" is a collection of famous jokes embedded in a web of celebrated humorous music, the recipe for a good production must be superb delivery, timing and good props.
Friday's Hawaii Opera Theatre performance of "Barber" had too few portions of those ingredients. Although the acting was fine, not all the singers performed the way I was hoping. After hearing that opera and those arias so many times in theaters and on CDs, commercials and ring tones, our ears deserve only the best or they'll tire.
Although nimble on stage, Zachary Stains as Count Almaviva was not so vibrant when it came to voice. He sounded weak in his solos, and in ensembles he could barely be heard. Stephen Powell's interpretation of Figaro was powerful and funny, but his gig on a Segway, very amusing at first, became redundant after a while.
On a leash for most of the opera, mezzo-soprano Christine Abraham performed the role of Rosina brilliantly and with ease, although that rope was always in her way. In her aria "Una voce poco fa," in which her character finally comes across completely, Abraham showed her versatility: from an obedient, naive, pretty girl in the cantabile, to a sassy, fierce young woman in the cabaletta. And, musically speaking, she comfortably mastered both lower notes and coloratura parts.
Particularly good was Jamie Offenbach as Don Basilio. Bass-baritone Offenbach appeared in "Don Carlo" two weeks ago and in "Tosca" in 2006. I liked his interpretations then, and loved him even more as the scheming music teacher now. His full, beautiful, round voice is perfect for the role. His "Calunnia" aria was a jewel of musical plotting.
Another veteran, baritone Jake Gardner as mean ol' Bartolo -- Rosina's possessive guardian and future (he thinks) husband -- was very comfortable with his role and helped further the comedy. His aria "A un dottor della mia sorte" was authoritative enough, although he could have used even more energy to impose himself on stage.
All singers, except Rosina, wore beautiful masks and costumes conceived by Helen E. Rodgers in a true Italian commedia dell'arte style. "Barber" in fact follows the typical plot of that 16th-century form of popular theater, and the masks were refreshing reminders. But having the singers masked the entire time made me feel bad for them. Why not show their faces in their moments of "truth"? And why not Rosina? Is it because she is the only one who never deceives (except when she makes up the imaginary opera "Inutile Precauzione")?
The orchestra provided excellent workmanship with the nervous, almost manic music of Rossini. Conductor Jorg Pitschmann and the musicians obviously had fun, and were able to communicate the upbeat quality of the whole score. The bells and other percussion, guitar and harpsichord surely gave the right color to the opera.
Valeria Wenderoth has a doctorate in musicology from the University of Hawaii at Manoa, where she also teaches.