REVIEW: In a dramatic setting, Mill City Summer Opera marshals impressive vocal talent, including Heather Johnson and Lucas Meachem.
A temperate evening on Saturday added to allure of the opening of Rossini’s “Barber of Seville,” staged by Mill City Summer Opera in the Ruin Courtyard of the Mill City Museum. It made a pleasant setting for a smart production, with singing of a consistently high order.
Set designer Jo Winiarski created an amazing set, up against the wall of the burnt-out flour mill. Staircases, decorated with ornate filigree, connect a series of platforms on various levels. They even found a way to include supertitles.
On it, director David Lefkowich staged an old-fashioned production. The commedia dell’arte origins of Rossini’s characters informed the performances: the wily servant facilitating the union of young lovers, despite the obstacle of her elderly suitor. The characters remained vivid, none overburdened by shtick.
Jennifer Caprio’s costumes wittily extended the commedia theme.
Lefkowich’s staging can be overly busy, with characters running up and down stairs unnecessarily. But he knows how to use the music to motivate the action and inspire the humor.
As the title character, the barber Figaro, Lucas Meachem dominated vocally as well as theatrically. He was the master puppeteer, a dashing, larger-than-life figure. He used his resplendent baritone to fine musical and comedic effect.
Tenor Taylor Stayton made a charming Count Almaviva, with a sweet, openhearted persona and a good sense of comic timing. He has a facility for Rossinian coloratura and ringing high notes, though his tone was a bit dry.
He was well paired with the Rosina of Heather Johnson. She played a spritely minx, and proved capable of mugging with the best, all the while tossing off elaborate coloratura. Her warm mezzo was on the light side, which supported her characterization.
She was best heard in her two ornate arias, as she seemed a bit overparted in the ensembles. But that is the limitation of the open-air venue: With no roof to provide resonance, voices tend to dissipate. Conductor Bryan DeMaris did well maintaining balances within these difficult circumstances.
As the suitor, Jake Gardner proves a great exponent of the basso buffo tradition.
Mill City Summer Opera is emerging as a consistently interesting professional company. This is a great way to spend a summer evening.
William Randall Beard writes about theater and music.