Vocal glamour in abundance highlighted the opening performance of LA Opera’s Il barbiere di Siviglia on November 29 at the Dorothy Chandler Pavillion, with much buzz attendant on the company debuts of Rossini experts Juan Diego Flórez and Joyce DiDonato. Adding excitement was the Figaro of Nathan Gunn, who played with Errol Flynn panache, and a production rich with Sevillian atmosphere.
Flórez flaunted thrilling vocalism, adding alternate high notes and turning Almaviva’s “Cessa di piu resistere,” into a virtuosic tour de force. Di Donato (Rosina) proved herself the natural successor to Marilyn Horne in this fach, a minx-like, devious Rosina,with an appealing brunette wig. Barihunk Gunn, though he lacks the vocal heft of a Merrill or Warren, is lots more fun more fun to watch in the role than either of those highly esteemed baritones would be! Newcomer Bruno Pratico (Bartolo) performed his patter aria at breakneck speed with great finesse.
The production of Llorenç Corbella proved highly attractive, in muted black and white with Rossini-patterned wallpaper in Bartolo’s study, breaking into riotous colors for the opera’s joyful ending in which the Count and Rosina departed in a balloon! Director Javier Ulacia provided a constantly moving tableau with flamenco dancers weaving in and out the arias and ensembles. Wunderkind Michele Mariotti (not yet 30, but already the Music Director of the Teatro Communale in Bologna) led with gusto.
Handel’s Tamerlano premiered November 21 in a production borrowed from the Washington Opera, showcasing Placido Domingo as Bajazet. The role is well suited to this stage of the tenor’s career, with a Lear/Cordelia vibe for the sultan and his daughter Asteria and an Otello-like death scene.
Tamerlano, boasting more imperial machinations than any episode of I, Claudius, was let down by the confused direction of Chas Rader-Schieber and the tatty sets of David Zinn. In what looks like an unattended Greyhound station in middle Europe, Tamerlano and his henchmen are in mostly modern dress, the henchmen reminiscent of Nazi soldiers, while Bajazet and daughter are decked out in the wardrobe from an expensive revival of Kismet.
However, in an opera defined by the vocal virtuosity of the soloists, even a confusing timeless setting did no great harm. The voice of the 68 year old Domingo now has a burnished steely quality, undiminished in power(it’s huge) with admirable flexibility and a secure top. In the title role, countertenor Bejun Mehta made a stunning
company debut, displaying Sutherland like coloratura facility with the intensity of John Hurt as Caligula, great stage presence and a lithe, athletic frame. His confrontation scenes with Domingo, whose character he eventually degrades and tortures to the point of suicide were especially thrilling, winning Mehta the loudest ovation during curtain calls.
Soprano Sarah Coburn (Asteria) poured out limpid tone, reminding one of a young Ruth Anne Swenson, and brought dramatic intensity to what could be a bland vicitim role. Jennifer Holloway proved highly entertaining as Irene, displaying a gorgeous mezzo and flaunting a stylish power suit. Welsh mezzo Patricia Bardon (Androncino) sounded highly musical and secure, and Ryan McKinney (Leone) had a sonorous bass., killer technique and great stage presence.
The pared-down band responded well to Willliam Lacey’s incisive baton – though it felt odd to see theoboros jutting from the same pit that housed the mighty Wagnerian orchestra of Siegfried only a couple of weeks before!