Last night saw the alternative cast for the COC’s Barber of Seville take the stage for the first time. Almaviva, Rosina, Bartolo, Basilio are all changed and, last night, owing to illness Joshua Hopkins was replaced as Figaro by Clarence Frazer which, in turn meant Jan Vakulik sang the Officer.
This time I was watching from quite close up; seven rows back in the Orchestra rather than up in Ring 3. Usual issues of balance aside I don’t think it came across much differently. I still can’t see (or indeed want to see) this as carrying any real deep meaning; let alone a Marxian critique of capitalism as suggested by a couple of critics. It’s still a colourful, well constructed farce leaning heavily on the commedia del’arte. Oddly enough that’s how Dario Fo treated it too and if anyone could find a critique of capitalism in a piece he’s surely the man.
The thing about a well constructed farce is that it relies heavily on impeccable comic timing and here that collides with the reality of double cast productions. The second cast just doesn’t get to rehearse together as much as the first. Add to that that the Almaviva was a very late replacement for the tenor originally cast and it’s utterly unsurprising that last night just wasn’t as snappy as opening night. It was still a good show but not quite as sharp.
So what of the individual parts? Cecelia Hall’s Rosina was one of the highlights. It’s funny how body type affects comedy. Hall is taller and more angular than Serena Malfi which allows for a more physical type of comedy perhaps (Rowan Atkinson?). She’s just as funny. Just different. She also sings very beautifully with absolute command of the fireworks in the big numbers. Clarence Frazer’s Figaro was also very polished. He’s been working on the part for the Ensemble Studio performance on the 15th and, as he showed in the excerpts concert, he’s made for this part. Last night right from his first entrance he did not disappoint at all. The new Doctor Bartolo, Nikolay Didenko, and Don Basilio, Burak Bilgili, were quite sound but, besides the slight timing issues, didn’t quite have the panache of Renato Girolami and Robert Gleadow.
Finally we have to talk about Almaviva. Much of the critical comment about this production has turned on how it seems to be more Almaviva’s show than Figaro’s. Last night showed that that was at least as much about Alek Shrader’s Almaviva as the production. Shrader has swagger and RomCom good looks. That makes it much easier to dominate the stage than a tenor who is about a foot shorter than his love interest. Juan Diego Flores or Larry Brownlee might pull that off but it was more than a decent work-a-day tenor jumping in at short notice, in this case Francisco Brito, could, or should be expected to, manage. He also had a slightly shaky start but seemed to grow into the role and, ultimately, sang rather well. It’s not the most Italianate voice ever but it’s quite serviceable and he uses it skilfully. All in all a pretty good effort for a late replacement.
Bottom line? This is still a fun show though definitely not quite as slick as the first cast. I’d happily go see Cecelia Hall again and I’m looking forward to more of Clarence Frazer’s Figaro on the 15th. There are four more opportunities to see this cast between now and May 22nd but the Ensemble Studio show on the 15th is sold out.