Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Florida - West Coast

The Barber of SevilleSarasota Opera
William S. Oser | Season Schedule

Also see Bill's review of Cabaret

Stefano de Peppo, Lisa Chavez, Filippo Fontana,
Young Bok Kim, and Victor Ryan Robertson

Photo by Cliff Roles
Sarasota Opera has so much going for it: a certain amount of unusual repertory for jaded folks like me, yet the ability to produce a warhorse like the current The Barber of Seville and do a first rate job of it. At intermission I traded a few words with a young man who told me this was his first opera and he was surprised at how funny it is. He is right, Rossini's masterpiece is a perennial hit with audiences. The humor is rooted in the music, so if a company can get a decent cast of singers, which this company absolutely has, the humor is going to be there. Clear stage action directed by Stephanie Sundine helps keeps it clear for newcomers.

Rossini is my favorite opera composer, although The Barber of Seville is not my favorite among his operas (due to over exposure, I suspect). During the past 30 years the abilities to perform his astonishing 39 operas, many still obscure, has increased. Understanding the proper style of vocal production required and grooming a large stable of singers, many specializing in this composer, have contributed greatly, as have the musicological efforts of Philip Gossett and his team who have been releasing newly edited editions of the operas. Sarasota Opera forces are clearly aware of this modern scholarship even if they don't use Gossett's edition.

There are currently three world-class tenors singing a lot of Rossini, with Juan Diego Florez and Lawrence Brownlee concentrating at least half of their attention to this composer and Javier Camerina showing great abilities but with a little less focus. With these voices ringing in their ears, other tenors absorb the niceties of the style. Victor Ryan Robertson is a case in point, vocally the star of our show, singing a really fine Count Almaviva. Lisa Chavez, last year's Carmen, is now Rosina. Hers is a plummy voice, able to stand up to demanding mezzo roles like Delilah yet with enough flexibility for the task at hand. Rosina is a role best for voices that are a little more delicate, like Frederica Von Stade, as opposed to a voluptuous voice like Marilyn Horne. At the performance I attended, Ms. Chavez oversang her big first act aria, "Una voce poco fa," but then dazzles in the act two lesson scene. Overall, it is an excellent performance.

Our Figaro, Filippo Fontana, is full of Italian brio even though the opera is set in Spain. This performance is a lesson in what is missing with the internationalization of opera, loss of Italian specificity. Stephano de Peppo returns to Sarasota after a string of basso buffo roles, to play (not his first time for this company) Dr. Bartolo. His performance of the aria made me remember great buffos of the past. And funny? He is quite a stage animal, at his best in the shaving scene. Young Bok Kim as Basilio, the music master, is more of a basso canto (singing bass) than a buffo. He makes his aria count, but is not as effective in ensembles as a buffo might be. Among the smaller roles, Kevin Wetzel makes an impression as Fiorello in the opening scene, as much for his lively stage presence as his singing, because it is not vocally all that interesting, and Anna Mandina got herself a large round of applause with Berta's aria about how difficult the household is. I was quite surprised to see a young lady in her photograph because she has the voice of a great character mezzo. Apprentice artists appear in two insignificant roles.

Victor DeRenzi, Artistic Director, conducted this performance with the wonderful Sarasota Orchestra joining him in the pit. They play with precision, so important in Rossini's comedies. Maestro DeRenzi conducts a wide range of repertory and always well.

All of the action plays out on a lovely sun-drenched set by Jeffrey W. Dean, Howard Tsvi Kaplan does his usual superb job with costumes, and Ken Yunker lights it all.

I've loved opera since I was a young one, saw my first live show at age 12. I would rather see a slightly compromised live performance than watch a really good DVD or listen to a fine recording. A performance as solid as this one will serve as a wonderful introduction to the art form for Sarasota audiences.

The Barber of Seville, through November 11, 2018, at Sarasota Opera, 61 N. Pineapple Avenue, Sarasota FL. For tickets and information call 941-366-8450 or visit

The Count Almaviva: Victor Ryan Robertson
Dr. Bartolo: Stefano de Peppo
Rosina: Lisa Chavez
Figaro: Filippo Fontana
Basilio: Young Bok Kim
Berta: Anna Mandina*
Fiorello: Kevin Wetzel*
Ambrogio: Samuel Schlievert**
An Official: Garrett Obrycki**
An Alcalde: Kevin Wetzel*
*=Studio Artist
**+Apprentice Artist