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Opera Tampa season kicks off with the solid ‘The Barber of Seville’

TAMPA — The curtain opened on a huge set, denoting grand ambitions for The Barber of Seville, Gioachino Rossini’s best known work and Opera Tampa’s season opener. Under the direction of guest conductor Jorge Parodi, the small cast pulled off a well received production, cast to the right strengths in key roles.

Gabriel Preisser, one of last year’s mainstays, returns to play the title role of Figaro, a jack-of-all-trades and town fixer, as he introduces himself in the Figaro aria made famous in part by Bugs Bunny. Preisser’s versatile baritone covers the character’s demands, and his amiable swagger quickly won over a full Morsani Hall at the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts.

His most pressing demand involves a love-struck Count Almaviva played by Tyler Nelson, whose lovely lyrical tenor in an opening aria strikes the evening’s first romantic chord. His crush is the young Rosina, who is a virtual captive and ward of Dr. Bartolo.

Cecilia Violetta Lopez supplies an endlessly rich soprano as Rosina, establishing herself as a powerful force in her aria, Una voce poco fa, "A little voice just echoed in my heart." Her nimble handling of some breathtakingly fast arpeggios up and down the scale sets an example for the rest of the cast.

This light-hearted opera depends on a fast pace over just two acts and flawless singing. This show takes a solid shot at both; it’s full of vitality and is never worse than workmanlike. A couple of Nelson’s high notes were a bit creaky early on, he was not as precise on the runs and ended one small phrase nearly out of breath. Such small mistakes can make the difference between great and merely acceptable singing; fortunately those kinks were ironed out midway through the first act.

The count receives a letter from Rosina, who has heard his serenade and asks his identity. He serenades again, identifying himself as "Lindoro," a poor student. In so doing, he hopes to win over Rosina for love, not his money. Through a variety of ruses, he and Figaro conspire in multiple ways to get the count inside the doctor’s home. In the meantime, Figaro and Rosina set a tone with an early duet. Throughout the show, whenever there is a slow point, it’s always the duets, trios and quartets that revive it, sometimes in spectacular fashion.

Kevin Glavin as Dr. Bartolo delivered the evening’s biggest surprise, a precise and well calibrated vision of a miserly and controlling captor, in a booming and bell-clear baritone. David Cushing added a comic element as the music teacher Don Basilio, Bartolo’s henchman. His baritone had a certain woolliness to it, but he provided the bass floor for a quintet late in the show and showed consistent vision. Kristi Beinhauer won the audience over as the governess Berta with an aria lamenting the chaos in the house.

Some touches add levity. Figaro strikes a rock star pose while accompanying a serenading Count Almaviva on the mandolin. There’s some sitcom humor in voice lessons between Rosina and substitute teacher "Don Alonso" (the count in disguise), replete with lip-fluttering vocalizing and some hilarious deception of a suspicious Bartolo. An attempted escape from the doctor’s house by Rosina, Almaviva and Figaro produces a delicate trio and a dramatic moment that works.

In the end, it’s the soaring singing and Lopez and Nelson that nails the show’s success, with indispensable help from Preisser and the cast. The demanding arias and group numbers set a high bar, which this production ultimately manages to clear.

Contact Andrew Meacham at [email protected] or (727) 892-2248. Follow @torch437.

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Opera Tampa season kicks off with the solid ‘The Barber of Seville’