The Opera Theatre of Northern Virginia is now in its 21st season, but I confess that this weekend's "Barber of Seville" by Giovanni Paisiello was my first visit. It very definitely will not be my last. Friday night's opening at the Thomas Jefferson Community Theatre in Arlington revealed an entertaining and bright ensemble under the solid and witty direction of conductor John Edward Niles.

Paisiello's version of the Beaumarchais play uses virtually the same libretto as Rossini's later masterpiece. What it lacks in Rossinian naughtiness and bounce, it more than makes up for in sweetness and elegance. The attractive young cast negotiated the music stylishly, from the crystal-voiced Rosina of soprano Janet Praschke to the teddy-bear Almaviva of tenor Edward Randall. Andrew Wentzel is a baritone to watch, and his swarthy Figaro was the evening's high point. Robert Keefe made a very likable Doctor Bartolo with a rich basso and good comic sense.

If the dry recitatives were a bit too expansive, it was wonderful to have the humor of the libretto so well served in English translation. Comic opera really can be comic if the audience can follow it, and the audience seemed to love this one. Niles' conducting emphasized theater first and the music followed naturally, with particular relish in the overture and the "Storm" interlude.