"Opera!" sings Dr. Bartolo. "That exotic and irrational entertainment! The acting is silly and the singing hardly better."

Besides adding new nuances to the libretto of "The Barber of Seville," this recitative from Boris Goldovsky's witty adaptation seemed a bit unfair last night in Alexandria. The Virginia Opera Theater's acting was silly, but it was supposed to be. And if the singing was hardly better, that was partly because the acting was so good.

Last night's performance, in the T.C. Williams High School auditorium, was the first visit of the Norfolk-based company to the Washington area. "Barber" has had two notable productions here within the last year, but clearly we still have room for one more.

This was a traveling production, mounted by a relatively company, the Virginia Opera Association, to tour throughout the state. It is a compact edition of the opera -- entirely omitting the chorus, for example, which does no damage to the story though it does eliminate some colorful bustle on stage. It is sung in English, and in the clear acoustics of this auditorium the language notable increased the audience's appreciation.

There was much to appreciate, from the brilliant Figaro of Nicholas Karousatos to the fine performance of Linda Nichols in the tiny role of the maid, Berta. Dale McKinley was a properly ridiculous villian as Bartolo, and Peter Feldman did well in the two minor roles of Fiorello and the Sargeant. Valerie Saalbach (Rosina) has an agile, powerful voice capable of lovely tones, but needs to work on control -- particularly on making the dynamics more even in her coloratura passages. Tenor Don Wiggins was more impressive as a comic actor than as a singer last night, while baritone Roger Roloff had exactly the opposite qualities. The ensemble singing, so important in this opera, was excellent, as was the stage direction of Talmadge R. Fauntleroy and the conducting of Harold Evans.