Word of the day: crescendo (n) — a gradual increase in loudness.
Note that the word does not mean the climax or loudest point of a piece of music. The great fun of a crescendo is its journey to reach the climax — the incremental addition of more instruments, more volume, more strength and fullness of tone, until you finally reach the all-out abandon of restraint.
The greatest practitioner of this musical effect was Gioachino Rossini (nicknamed Signor Crescendo) whose “Barber of Seville,” his masterpiece of opera buffa, provides another success for the University of Kentucky Opera Theatre. Director Cynthia Lawrence takes this same approach in building comic tension as she presents the story, starting the opera rather conventionally and then ramping up the funny business until the frenzy of complications brings the story to a joyous conclusion.
Rossini uses these crescendi throughout, and we get a hint of what’s to come stylistically with the famous overture. Under the direction of John Nardolillo, the orchestra opens with a lively, transparent rendition, though in the pit of the Singletary Center for the Arts, the dynamic range is more limited than usual.
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Onstage, the servant Fiorello (a fine performance by Michael Pandolfo) bows reverently to a portrait of Rossini, and we’re off. Fiorello quiets a group of musicians to accompany his master Count Almaviva, as he woos the captive ward Rosina with song. Tenor Taylor Comstock possesses a lovely, high, sweet, clear legato, perfectly suited for the lyric lover. At this point in the opera, however, the staging is still static, as Almaviva sings to the audience instead of to the balcony. When the stage picture doesn’t explain the relationships, we have to rely on the words, and this is made difficult by the placement of screens (providing translations) on the sides of the stage. Even if you possess keen eyesight, the placement is not optimal, because when you’re reading the words, you have to give up watching the stage action. If the Singletary Center is going to be a regular venue for opera, it’s time they upgraded to a supertitle system where we could read larger text above the stage and keep our attention on the performers.
Wanessa Campelo, as Rosina, also begins as more an ingenue at first, only growing into a winning coquette later in the proceedings. By the second act, she opens up more, displaying some thrilling coloratura vocal work. Comstock also shines brighter in Act Two when he is given more comic business and adds the goofy humor to the beauty of his singing. The arrival of the silly police force at the end of Act One seems to shift the story into high gear, freeing everyone to loosen up for more fun.
And what of the Barber himself? Taeeun Moon portrays a vigorous, swaggering Figaro, who has just enough ham in him from the get-go. A strong voice, impeccable diction, and a huge sense of fun help him create a resourceful, wily, lovable trickster who carries much of the plotting. Bongani Ndhlalane makes a ghoulish Basilio, and Audrey Belle Adams manages to steal every scene she’s in as the long-suffering servant Berta. These musicians are fortunate to work with guest artist Kevin Glavin as Dr. Bartolo, whose singing, characterization, and comic timing inspire them to match his hilarious and formidable professionalism. Special mention must also go to harpsichordist Marcello Cormio for his witty realizations and to the beautiful costuming by Anna Bjotnsdotter.
Most directorial touches pay off, such as turning the thunderstorm into a dream sequence. But the lounging during the trio “Zitti zitti piano piano,” while ironically amusing, robs us of some eleventh-hour urgency, needed to move the crescendo constantly forward. But the comic invention of librettist Cesare Sterbini and composer Rossini (who reportedly wrote the music in a rush of two weeks) never flags, and this production journeys to a rousing finish. And the crescendo you hear from the audience is laughter building to thunderous applause.
Note: Many roles in this production of “Barber of Seville” are double cast. This cast will perform again Saturday night. Some roles will be played by different singers at matinee performances.
If you go
“The Barber of Seville”
What: The University of Kentucky Opera Theatre’s production of Gioachino Rossini’s comic opera.
When: 2 and 7:30 p.m. Feb. 25, 2 p.m. Feb. 26
Where: Singletary Center for the Arts concert hall, 405 Rose St.