‘The Barber of Seville’ a Bright 85th Season Opener

Pittsburgh Opera Offers a Vivacious Production of Old Classic


Despite miserable weather and having a star baritone on the sick list, Pittsburgh Opera attracted a good-sized audience to a brilliant performance of The Barber of Seville (Il Barbiere di Siviglia) at the Benedum last evening. As is often the case, the tone of the evening was set by Antony Walker and the orchestra “delivering” – and deliver they did, a superb rendition of Gioachino Rossini’s thrilling overture, some of the most inspired music in the classic, old, tuneful comedy. Baritone John McCullough, the long-advertised singer who was to take the role of Figaro, the all-knowing barber of Seville, was unable to sing due to illness, but the company need not apologize for flying in – at the eleventh hour – the young, handsome and very gifted John Moore to take his place. He has appeared in this production elsewhere, making for a test of his memory, and the little rehearsal time due to his last-minute arrival in Pittsburgh made his animated performance even more remarkable.

Moore has a rich, resonant voice and is an actor ideally suited to the part of Figaro. Despite a slightly clipped “Largo al factotum della città” (“Make way for the factotum of the city”), the role’s best-known aria, he gave a truly stellar rendition of the part, and with his voice and comedy gold, made a most auspicious debut with the company. The reception he received must surely have moved him deeply and made his unexpected trip worthwhile. Another baritone who gave a highly commendable performance, and, if memory serves, in his third appearance on the Pittsburgh Opera stage, was the versatile Musa Ngqungwana, who sings the role of Doctor Bartolo. His warmly burnished tones and naturally appealing stage presence make him a pleasure in any role he takes, be it tragedy or comedy. His extended range makes possible funny falsetto mockery in his Bartolo.

Rosina (Stephanie Doche), Count Almaviva (Lunga Eric Hallam),
Doctor Bartolo (Musa Ngqungwana)

Stephanie Doche, also making her Pittsburgh Opera debut, has it all. Her velvety mezzo-soprano voice, her comedic acting skills and beautiful stage presence make for an excellent Rosina. Her resonant voice touches some of the higher tones with slightly less freedom than the rest of her range, which is negotiated with a secure loveliness, and her “business” and asides are engaging. She has an indescribably comic way of holding up her long skirts as she runs up and down stairways that happily occurs often. Soprano Emily Richter, as was to be expected, took the role of Berta and ran. She does the same thing with any role she takes. Her powerfully brilliant voice was in fine form and her schtick worked well. The voice and versatility of this young artist have been commented on at length before. And she seems to ripen with each new appearance.

Another new voice and face on the Benedum stage was tenor Lunga Eric Hallam, as the Count Almaviva. He, too, made a striking appearance and is a vivid singing actor, though, at least last night, his voice was sometimes “white,” and some high tones were less than solidly focused. But the overall quality of his voice and the manner in which he uses it point to a very skilled artist. Brandon Bell, as Fiorello, had much to do with the performance getting off to the brilliant start that it did, and the always reliable Brian Kontes, both in singing and acting, was a notably fine Don Basilio. David Scoville and Roy Simmons rounded out the cast in the roles of an Officer and a Notary, respectively, and the chorus and “supes” all made fine showings.

Soldiers (Pittsburgh Opera Choristers) with Berta (Emily Richter), Figaro (John Moore), Rosina (Stephanie Doche), Count Almaviva (Lunga Eric Hallam), Doctor Bartolo (Musa Ngqungwana), the Notary (Roy Simmons)

As mentioned above, Antony Walker and his orchestra delivered a marvelous performance. The overture was symphonic, and the conductor once again made the magic of the orchestration shine without taking anything away from the vocalists. Gregory Keller’s stage direction was clever and engaging, and for great singing, scenic design and many other points of interest, the opening night of Pittsburgh Opera’s 85th was a decidedly brilliant one indeed.

Three more performances remain, so for complete production details, plot summary, TICKETS and more, visit Pittsburgh Opera. This is definitely a show you don’t want to miss.

Don Basilio (Brian Kontes), Doctor Bartolo (Musa Ngqungwana), Soldiers (Pittsburgh Opera Choristers), Berta (Emily Richter), Rosina (Stephanie Doche), Figaro (John Moore), and Count Almaviva (Lunga Eric Hallam)

NOTE: Due to the lack of a dress rehearsal with Mr. Moore, all of David Bachman’s accompanying photos were taken during the actual performance last evening.

The Artistic Team for The Barber of Seville –

Conductor, Antony Walker; Stage Director, Gregory Keller; Scenic Designer, Steven Kemp;
Costume Designer, Howard Tsvi Kaplan; Lighting Designer, Cindy Limauro; Wig & Make-up Designer, James Geier; Assistant Stage Director, Haley Stamats; Assistant Lighting Designer, Todd Nonn; Stage Manager, Cindy Knight; Assistant to Wig & Make-up Designer, Nicole Pagano; Head of Music/Assistant Conductor, Glenn Lewis; Chorus Master/Director of Musical Studies, Mark Trawka; Assistant Coach/Pianist, James Lesniak; Assistant Stage Managers, Adrienne Wells and Claire Young

David Bachman Photography for Pittsburgh Opera


Pittsburgh Opera’s production of the Barber of Seville has performances at the Benedum Center on October 17, 20 and 22. For tickets, visit: https://www.pittsburghopera.org/tickets/

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