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Opera Review (NYC): The Barber of Seville at the Bleecker Street Opera

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New York music fans loudly lamented the passing of the long-running Amato Opera earlier this year. Despite a reputation for uneven quality, the little family-run "opera house that could" had been an East Village institution since 1948, presenting stripped-down productions of operatic standards and charging low ticket prices while giving rising singers an opportunity to hone their craft.

Amato veterans have wasted no time rising from the ashes. Not one but two companies have emerged to wear the Amato's mantle. One, the Bleecker Street Opera, has found a home at the relatively spacious downstairs theater at 45 Bleecker Street, and I attended the second performance of its second production, Rossini's Barber of Seville, last night. The staff seemed unprepared for the full house. Everything was a little disorganized, and the show started late. The Rosina (Malena Dayen) was recovering from bronchitis. The Bartolo was a last-minute substitute who needed line cues from conductor/music director David Rosenmeyer. Mr. Rosenmeyer himself had been a late addition to the team after the unexpected departure of Paul Haas. And with all that, what did we get? Not technical perfection, it's true, but a thoroughly enjoyable and in some respects exceptional production, thanks to the cast of superb singers, the hardworking Mr. Rosenmeyer and his mini-orchestra, and a talented production team led by stage director Teresa K. Pond.

William Browning was a simply glorious Figaro, with a suave and powerful baritone, a solid yet agile stage presence, and a constant twinkle in his eye; his tremendous, antic "Largo al factotum" set a high bar. Anthony Daino brought a droll, Depardieu-esque assurance to Count Almaviva, with a sweet, sunny tenor. And Ms. Dayen, who like Mr. Rosenmeyer hails from Argentina, imbued Rosina with a fluid, coquettish energy, making her more than an equal to the scheming but good-hearted Count and the brash barber. No delicate flower was this Rosina, and I could detect little if any evidence of any lingering illness in Ms. Dayen's wonderful singing; if anything she seemed to strengthen as the evening wore on.

In a larger setting, the quality of acting in an opera like this – while important – can take a back seat. Not so in an intimate space, but the acting in this production was exceptional, as was the singers' diction. Whatever few words of Italian you may know – even if they don't go beyond "presto" and "piano" and "stanza" – you'll hear every one of them clearly.

The orchestra, though only about fifteen pieces, is a considerable step up from the tiny combos that accompanied Amato productions, and the musicians acquitted themselves very well, playing with verve and skill; the winds sparkled, and even the strings sounded generally in tune despite being so few in number.

Best of all, with a small house like this, there are virtually no bad seats, and everyone gets to feel up close and personal. It's quite different from somewhere like the Met, where everything is so fancy and grand. This is gritty opera, just the basics, but what crowd-pleasing basics they are.

The Barber of Seville plays Saturdays at 3 PM and Sundays at 7 PM through January 17. Click here for ticket information or call Telecharge at 212-239-6200.

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About Jon Sobel

Jon Sobel is an Executive Editor of Blogcritics as well as lead editor of the Culture & Society section. As a writer he contributes most often to Culture, where he reviews NYC theater; he also covers interesting music releases. Through Oren Hope Marketing and Copywriting at you can hire him to write or edit whatever marketing or journalistic materials your heart desires. Jon also writes the blog Park Odyssey at where he visits every park in New York City. And by night he's a part-time working musician: lead singer, songwriter, and bass player for Whisperado, a member of other bands as well, and a sideman.
  • gigiz

    I, too, attended the performance of The Barber of Seville, on December 27, 2009, at the Bleeker Street Opera, squirming in my seat for the duration of the languished performance, played to a rather less than full house (the word empty comes to mind) and experienced quite a different show than the one praised by Mr. Sobel above.

    I purchased my ticket based on the stunning reviews I had heard of the sadly departed Amato Opera and hoping to have an enjoyable night at the opera. I truly wanted to love the show. However, what I witnessed last night was far below amateur and quite honestly, an embarrassment for all involved in the production, save Mr. William Browning, the gentleman who played the quirky, well-sung Figaro, whose energy, consistent singing, well placed humor and mastery of his Italian pronunciations, was the only saving grace of this entire production.

    Technical difficulties aside (every show and performer sometimes requires a bit of assistance from the musical director), what cannot be ignored or explained was the ridiculous casting, the utterly non-existent blocking, poor acting and overall sad performances witnessed last night. This is best epitomized by the lackluster chorus, which barely bothered to mouth the lyrics they were supposed to be performing and seemed utterly lost on stage.

    As far as the rest of the cast, the actors made very odd choices for their characters ” seemly moving across the stage without direction or purpose, and did not really know the music. There seemed to be a lack of commitment in anything they were doing on stage. There was nothing sweet or sunny about the tenor ” he was rather dreary, poorly rehearsed and brought nothing vocally to the stage. In an effort to look past this dreadful performance, and to keep myself in sync with the story which was not being clearly communicated on stage, I focused my energy on reading the translation of the lyrics, posted on a screen next to the stage, which unfortunately did not keep up with the lyrics being sung. Again, a technical disaster.

    The orchestra was rather delightful for its small numbers and managed to produce a full sound. As best plead by conductor/musical director Mr. David Rosenmeyer at the beginning of the show, we should support small performing arts companies, particularly those striving to encourage young talent. However, in this struggle to promote talent, it is irresponsible of a theater reviewer and not particularly helpful for the cast, to praise performances which are undeserving of such praise.

    I look forward to future performances by The Bleeker Street Opera and am hopeful that they will improve upon their Barber of Seville by leaps and bounds.

  • Jon Sobel

    You couldn’t have been at the same performance, because the one I attended played to a full house. Unlike our respective views of the performance, that’s not a matter of opinion.

  • Sato Moughalian

    The commenter was at the third performance 12/27pm, the reviewer was at the second, 12/26.