Music Reviews : A Bright New 'Barbiere' Cast in Orange County

Opera Pacific added a bright new cast to its hand-me-down production of "Il Barbiere di Siviglia" on Sunday afternoon at the Orange County Performing Arts Center.

Alfred Siercke's clever set was, of course, familiar. The celebrated three-tier doll house, originally designed for the exigencies of a shallow stage in post-War Hamburg, has been a San Francisco staple since 1963. San Diego got to see it in 1987, too.

On this occasion, the action within the doll house bore little relation to the witty dramatic scheme devised decades ago by Gunter Rennert. Rosalind Elias, the latest stage director and a veteran of many Metropolitan wars, imposed a network of fussy sight gags on the proceedings. To these eyes, most of them looked irrelevant.

Undaunted, the singers went through their silly, busy motions with pervasive bravado complemented by relatively persuasive bravura. More important, perhaps, they demonstrated fine ensemble spirit.

Theodore Baerg, the young Canadian baritone, introduced a burly but mercurial, extrovert but good-natured Figaro. He interpolated a superfluous cadential flourish in "Largo al factotum" and, in general, opted for bombast rather than finesse. Luckily, it was fine, full-throated bombast.

Mark Thomsen, the sympathetic new Almaviva, offered a converse set of values. He phrased with aristocratic suavity and even attempted some stylish ornamentation, but his tenorino tended toward constriction.

Gail Dubinbaum, who celebrated a happy homecoming as Rosina, traced the ornate cantilena in unusually deep and dark tone. As her wide-ranging mezzo-soprano continues to mature, she may ultimately lean more toward Verdi, less toward Rossini. Still, she sang the music of this heroine with remarkable warmth and reasonable agility, acted with knowing yet unaffected charm.

Michael Gallup, one of the most underrated singers in the Los Angeles area, managed to convey Bartolo's blustery exasperation without recourse to the obvious buffo mannerisms. He sang the part--really sang it--with generous basso flair. If Opera Pacific is searching for an interesting Leporello for its "Don Giovanni" next season, the search probably could end here.

Repeating their assignments from the Friday opening were Stephen West, a sonorous caricature-profondo Basilio; Molly Minor, a sweetly anachronistic, baby-faced Berta, and Frederick Matthews, a strikingly mellifluous and aggressive Fiorello. Mark Flint returned to conduct with affectionate elan.

Everyone and everything, not incidentally, sounded abnormally loud. Don't ask me why. The subject of amplification remains a matter of extreme sensitivity, and deep mystery, in cultural Costa Mesa.

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