New Life for Rossini’s “Barber”

United StatesUnited States Rossini, Il barbiere di Siviglia: Soloists, Lyric Opera of Chicago, Michele Mariotti (conductor), Civic Opera House, Chicago. 15.4.2014 (JLZ)

Nathan Gunn: Figaro
Isabel Leonard: Rosina
Alek Shrader: Almaviva
Alessandro Corbelli: Bartolo
Basilio: Kyle Ketelsen
Berta: Tracy Cantin
Fiorello: Will Liverman
Sergeant: John Irvin

Conductor: Michele Mariotti
Director: Rob Ashford
Set Designer: Scott Pask
Costume Designer: Catherine Zuber
Chorus Master: Michael Black


Lyric Opera of Chicago’s new production of Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia is fresh and engaging, with the musical and dramatic elements solidly in place. Yet it is tenor Alek Shrader who stands out, as an Almaviva rivaling the perennially popular role of Figaro. Engaging as an actor, Shrader combines style, technique, and expression to make him exemplary as a musician. From the opening, where we first encounter Almaviva masquerading as Lindoro, to the final scene, where Lindoro reveals his identity, Shrader gave an exquisite performance that was both technically stylish and interpretively pleasing. His appealing sound filled the Civic Opera House effortlessly, despite the role’s challenges. The aria “Cessa di più resistere” was as note-perfect as a studio recording, as was the Finale ultimo “Di si felice innesto.” The audience applauded Shrader enthusiastically, both during the opera and the curtain calls. He deserves to be heard more often.

As Rosina, Isabel Leonard embodied the dignity and elegance of her character from the start, with a subtle and effective reading of the aria “Una voce poco fa.” The latter began carefully, and Leonard let her emotions build as the music became increasingly ornamented. Her diction was clear, coupled with effective acting. The reserve Leonard used in the first act gradually disappeared as the opera continued. Her interactions with Shrader in the second-act music lesson contributed a sense of the growing infatuation between Rosina and Lindoro. At the same time, the various emphases on the aria she sang, the “Unnecessary Precaution”

In the title role, Nathan Gunn was an affable Figaro, combining a rich, full voice with excellent comic timing. “Largo al factotum” was enjoyable, as was his duet with Rosina “Dunque io son.” At times in the second act, some of Gunn’s pitches were lost due to some imbalances in the orchestra. Even so, Gunn was a good fit with the focused ensemble. Alessandro Corbelli, whose Bartolo was as strong as ever, brought out Bartolo’s weaknesses deftly and sang the role with flair. His patter-song passages had the precision of a musical instrument and the phrasing of a seasoned actor, as in the second-act quintet “Buona sera, mio signore.”

 As Basilio, Kyle Ketelsen showed a rich, resonant voice, clearly articulated Italian diction, and thoughtful phrasing. The first-act aria “La calumnia” was particularly fine, with the irony implicit in the text made clear. Ketelsen’s work in the second act was equally impressive, with his vibrant sound contributing much to the ensemble tone. The air of authority Ketelsen gave his Basilio called to mind other roles in which he had brought out details that escape other singers.

 All in all, the production was so polished that audience members were commenting to each other about things that they had not noticed elsewhere. The details of blocking and stage movement were impressive, as was the sense of drama that brought the audience to its feet at the end of the first act and elicited spontaneous applause at the work’s conclusion. Conductor Michele Mariotti’s direction was at the core. It was no surprise to see him animated on the podium as he responded to the singers and guided the orchestra. Even given Lyric’s typical high quality, he found new life in Rossini’s score.

James L. Zychowicz