On Sunday, November 6, the Santa Cruz Symphony under the direction of conductor Daniel Stewart presented a thrilling performance of Rossini’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia to a sold out audience at the Henry J. Mello Center For The Performing Arts in Watsonville. This was one of the most delightful comic operas to be heard here in many years. In true Italian fashion all that was missing were baskets of prosciutto, salametti, focaccia, vino, and, of course, lots of children running around enjoying a good time during the performance!
The all-star cast assembled for this exciting performance included Ginger Costa-Jackson as Rosina, Victor Ryan Robertson as Count Almaviva, John Michael Moore as Figaro, Steven Condy as Dr. Bartolo, Ryan Speedo Green as Don Basilio, Susanne Mentzer as Berta, Hadleigh Adams as Fiorello and Stan Neff as the Officer. Special kudos were deserved by stage director David Paul and choral director Cheryl Anderson, who did a superb job in preparing the Men of The Cabrillo Symphonic Chorus. The setting was up-dated to contemporary times with Count Almaviva, Dr. Bartolo and Don Basilio attired in dress suits. The attractive Rosina wore a sultry, eye- catching salmon colored long skirt with a striking sequence top (she switched to white attire in Act 2).
The well-known Overture is noteworthy in that the original was lost sometime after the premiere. Rossini rummaged through a chest he kept full of manuscripts and borrowed an overture from one of his earlier operas. The overture we have come to know and enjoy bears no resemblance to the “borrowed” one. The excellence in form and melody has overridden any questions that may have arisen about its authenticity. Rossini’s perpetual punctuation by the strings using the rhythmic “bounce – bow” technique, precisely in the double basses, set in motion a “digital” version of what we understand as a “pedal tone,” a note sustained in one part (usually the bass) through successive harmonies, some of which are independent of it. At various times Rossini also carried this idea into the string sections, a technique he employed to suggest feelings of perpetual motion. The orchestra, led by our newly appointed concert master Nigel Armstrong, performed with high energy — often responding to the applause following popular arias and the laughter following comic moments that were thoroughly enjoyed by the audience!
Moments of “recitativo” singing, a style common to the time allowed the singer to adopt the rhythms of common speech usually accompanied by the harpsichord, in this performance by harpsichordist Sophia Munoz. A guitar solo also played a supportive role and added an intimate touch.
All the members of the vocal cast performed with excellence and the familiar “Figaro” aria was served up to perfection. Noteworthy was the voice of Don Basilio, Ryan Speedo Green, whose wonderful, booming bass voice sounded as if it came from the depths of the ocean! The final high notes sung by “Rosina,” Ginger Costa-Jackson were simply glorious!
Quite obviously the time and work spent in NY with the Metropolitan Opera has paid huge dividends for Maestro Stewart. His experience in opera was quite evident as he bobbed and weaved through the melodic lines while the orchestra created crisp, clean entries and wonderful dynamic balance. So, the obvious question talked about by the appreciative, enthusiastic audience was “when is the next one?”
JOSEF SEKON, D.M.A