Baritone Robert Orth is a lively, convincing portrayer of one of the great comic figures in opera, Figaro the barber — the subject of two standards in the operatic repertoire. First came Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro in 1786, then its “prequel,” The Barber of Seville, 30 years later (both settings of the Beaumarchais plays, written and presented in reverse order prior to the French revolution). Indianapolis Opera produced the latter as a sumptuous season opener last Friday, Orth in the title role. Clowes Hall was again nearly filled — even with an ongoing presidential debate — to witness a winning production of Gioacchino Rossini’s most popular opera. Robert Orth as Figaro with Kirsten Chavez as Rosina and Curt Peterson as Almaviva in Indianapolis Opera’s performance of Rossini’s ‘The Barber of Seville.’ Orth won the evening not so much for a beautiful voice but for his characterization. The Illinois native got inside Figaro, the good-natured-but-scheming machinator, as well as anyone who’s had the role. He sang his introductory “Largo al factotum,” the opera’s — indeed Rossini’s — most famous solo number, not so much to display a usually expected vocal athleticism as to communicate his persona. Figaro shares his talents as a barber, doctor, matchmaker, general arranger, etc. He helps Count Almaviva to win the love of Rosina, a ward of lecherous old Dr. Bartolo, who’s out to marry her. Almaviva presents himself to Rosina as a poor student, Lindoro, so as not to betray a nobility in that very class-conscious culture. Bartolo, in turn, is aided by Don Basilio, Rosina’s music teacher.
Making her IO debut, mezzo-soprano Kirsten Chávez sang a full-throated Rosina, easily carrying throughout the hall and fully conveying Rossini’s buffo (comic) and wistful elements. Like Orth, her characterization dominated over her purely vocal qualities — as in her Act 1, Scene 2 aria, “Una voce poco fa,” in which she declares her love for “Lindoro.”
Tenor Curt Peterson, singing Almaviva, seemed occasionally forced in his vocal projection, as though straining to carry to the hall’s far reaches. Otherwise, as in “Se il mio nome,” his opening serenade to Rosina, Peterson’s voice was mellifluously musical.
Bass-baritone John Davies sang Bartolo with the necessary heft but with a bit of wobbliness, as in “A un dottor dell mia sorte,” when he resorts to locking Rosina in her room. Bass Arthur Woodley’s Don Basilio was more impressive, delivering rich, low, point-on registers throughout the production. The subsidiary roles of Berta, Fiorello, the Notary and Ambrogio were well-sung respectively by Patricia Stiles, Nicholas Provenzale, Mark Wheatley and Steve Townsend.
Eduardo Sicango’s Spanish-Moorish sets respectively showing the outside and inside of Bartolo’s house were sufficiently modest not to draw undo attention while presenting a good facsimile of period architecture, including the omnipresent balcony. Stage director Vera L. Calábria handled the chorus and other extras with ease and dispatch. Finally, IO artistic director and conductor James Caraher led members of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra in an obviously well-prepared pit presentation. IO’s next production, Puccini’s Madama Butterfly, will be given Nov. 19 and 21. The Barber of Seville Indianapolis Opera Clowes Hall Oct. 8 and 10