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Bel Cantanti’s winsome ‘Barber of Seville’

By Robert Battey,

The Maryland-based Bel Cantanti Opera Company began its ninth year with a winsome production of Rossini’s “Barber of Seville” — very well sung and often fun to look at.

With talented local singers, a lot of volunteer help, borrowed costumes, and a scrappy orchestra of what appear to be college students, the company’s highly creditable showing owes much to the ambition and drive of its founder, director, and conductor, Katerina Souvorova.

There were, of course, some opening-night glitches Friday at the Rockville Jewish Community Center’s intimate but drab auditorium. Some lighting cues in the final scene seemed wrong, and the orchestra was still finding its way through some of the harder passages. But the cast was vocally strong from top to bottom. Too often the acting veered into sitcom territory — the singers in smaller roles trying too hard to make their time onstage count.

And what was supposed to be the big dramatic stroke in the first-act finale was badly undermined by production choices. The scene involves a soldier discreetly revealing to a policeman who is about to arrest him that he is a nobleman in disguise, prompting the policeman to release him to everyone’s astonishment. But here, the policeman and the nobleman/soldier were in identical uniforms, and the policeman was played by the same singer who earlier played the nobleman’s servant. This double miscalculation made the scene an incomprehensible hash without any comedic tension.

Sarah Davis as Rosina was outstanding, tossing off coloratura with clarity and ease. Colin Levin in the title role didn’t dominate musically, but was the most natural actor. Kwang Kyu Lee as Bartolo has a powerful and flexible voice, but could tone down the mugging a little. Costume and production design were remarkable, given the budget constraints.

For a fraction of what you’d pay at the Kennedy Center, this modest “Barber” offers a musically satisfying and vocally opulent evening.

“The Barber of Seville” continues Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 3 p.m.

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