The Washington Civic Opera crowned its 25 years of existence this weekend with a sparkling production of Rossini's "The Barber of Seville." An exuberant, youthful cast combined splendid acting and fine singing in a performance that was a delightful romp from beginning to end.
Possibly inspired by the Met's new "Don Pasquale" production, the stage for "The Barber" was similarly turned into an intimate space for the plot's drawing-room-style intricacies by a scalloped, gold-edged frame. Robert Troll's set, complete with bubbling fountain, effectively handled the indoor-outdoor transitions and provided charm without fussiness.
The same could be said of the entire production, notable both for its freshness and the absence of those excesses that often plague opera buffa. Staging director Nicholas Muni proved endlessly imaginative in devising comic business that flowed with engaging naturalness and spontaneous good humor. His own portrayal of the deaf servant, Ambrosius, was a gem of comic invention.
Truly singing actors, the cast as a whole possessed exceptionally polished dramatic skills. Tripping lightly through elaborate coloratura passages, soprano Janet Pranschke was a pert and appealing Rosina. She caught the young girl's rapid emotional shifts with a keen sense of timing and vocal coloration. As her romantic partner, Christopher Cameron offered an appropriately graceful tenor voice and pleasing manner in the role of the infatuated Count Almaviva. A few nervous slips aside, base Robert Keefe was a splendidly blustering Don Bartolo, bringing a full, resonant sound and sure characterization to the part.
The ultimate success of "The Barber" rests, of course, on its central figure. From the moment he entered with his first aria, Robert Galbraith made clear that here was a Figaro of uncommon ability. His confidence and energy were infectious, his voice was rich and agile and his sense of musical and dramatic pacing excellent.
Conductor Richard Weilenmann provided the singers with sensitive and skilled support, moving the music along with a lively hand. The only disappointments of the evening were the two acts' closing finales, which did not match the rest of the opera musically in excitement and projection.