Someone said that last night's performance of Rossini's "The Barber of Seville" by the Prince George's Opera was mezzo-soprano Theodora Hanslowe's first as Rosina, the opera's wily, floridly vocal heroine. If so, then those who did not make it to the opening night might want to try for one of the two other performances this weekend because a true bel canto mezzo singing a major role for the first time is not something easy to find.
There are other reasons to attend this "Barber" as well, but those few have to do with the two leading singers' various vocal and dramatic qualities only. Otherwise we have a conductor who seems not to care what his singers are doing (or how his players in the pit are blending either, for that matter); a no-longer-adequate English translation of the libretto ("I am the Barber of Seville, I am!" indeed); and an orchestra of dubious capabilities.
Light tenor Richard Turner started off only so-so. His first serenade (better known as "Ecco ridente in cielo") showed him uneasy, but his second -- which he beautifully accompanied himself on the guitar -- was musically superior in every respect, and this level was pretty much upheld for the rest of his evening. Moreover, in the third act, he became a good comic actor, lifting this stolid production off the ground virtually on his own.
Hanslowe has a brilliant top, adds daring, well-executed fioritura (although she has sounded more fluent) and brings a confident presence to the stage. This all adds up to something distinctly worth experiencing. Her naturally right rhythmic inclinations at times kept things from collapsing too.
Although this reviewer got some firsthand clues from the stage director as to why she chose to set Rossini's "Barber" somewhere in the 1890s, the rest of the audience -- since the program offered no help in the matter -- must have been wondering what all that purple Victorian drapery was doing soaking up that early 19th-century music (set to an 18th-century story). Oh, well.