Barbiere at Hubbard Hall
Rossini Opera an Unqualified Success
By: Chris Buchanan - Aug 29, 2013
Rossini's Barber of Seville has proven to be one of the greatest masterpieces of comedy within music, and has held its position as a masterpiece of musical comedy for 200 years. It is one of the few operas which still has its talons in popular culture, with Figaro resonating in modern sensibilities as the everyman who pulls all the strings.
Hubbard Hall Opera Theater does great justice to the work. The direction of this production was spectacular. It was a Barbiere rich in detail with no rough edges. Stage director Andrew Nienaber showed what rehearsal time and an expert hand can do with talented comedic actors. The opera was, from beginning to end, legitimately hilarious, sending the audience into torrents of laughter.
The crisp, polished overture prepared us for a special evening of opera. The 17 pieces played as an absolute unit under the complete control of conductor Maria Sensi Sellner. The tempi were brisk throughout, and Sellner supported the singers with a sure hand, drawing incisive resonant playing in excellent balance with the singers. Huge marks go to the HHOT team for presenting the opera intact with well-prepared Italian recitative and still bringing it in at under three hours including intermission.
Patrick McNally anchored the performance as a strong Figaro, possessing a beautiful and large lyric baritone that aggressively asserts itself in the hall. The young Abigail Levis and her warm and resonant mezzo voice was breathtaking as Rosina. She has the rare interpretive gift of using coloratura to highlight emotional truth rather than simply show off. Luke Grooms supplied plenty of belly laughs with his rollicking portrait of Almaviva, but seemed to struggle with aspirated coloratura and the excessive distracting addition of disconnected high-notes which did neither Rossini style, nor his beautiful instrument any favors. Andrew Adelsberger as Bartolo brought the audience to wild laughter with a purposely flat serenade of his ward, elsewhere unveiling a secure voice and superior buffo acting instinct. He was a pleasure to watch.
Ryan Allen’s Basilio erupted onstage in beatnik garb with a bad toupee and one silver earring. He possesses a volcanic voice and unctuous presence to match his experienced comedic timing as Basilio. In Allen’s capable hands, (and with due credit to Director Neinaber presumably) “La Calunnia” (Gossip) is personified not as a gust of wind, but rather as a dangerous man-eating hamster that Allen strokes and provokes as necessary. In another pleasantly unexpected bizarre twist, Director Neinaber stages an exit for Basilio where he is actually thrown off of the balcony, most likely a first in all of Barbiere history and
a moment which earned great guffaws from the audience.
Anneleise von Goerken as the frantic maid and Peter Subers who played a narcoleptic butler proved comedic (if cartoonish) gold and, in fact, are local to the Cambridge, New York area. Contrary to the expectations of small-town opera, the chorus (led by the multitalented Fiorello of Nick Kilkenny whose unlisted credits also include guitar, triangle and bass drum apparently) added polish and fun to the show. Hubbard Hall may be small, but the grass-roots company run by Alexina Jones deftly uses its limited resources to put on authentic performances to sold out houses which affirms the viability and vivacity of budget opera.
Barber of Seville played August 16, 17 and 18 at 8pm and August 24 and 25 at 2pm. August 16 and 25 were sold out shows.