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Tuesday, February 07, 2006 | Editor’s Note: Voice of San Diego is embarking on a new effort to cover the arts in San Diego and give theater patrons the opportunity to provide their own reviews of shows. Read audience reviews.

San Diego Opera’s season opened with a delightful, wonderfully cast portrayal of Gioachino Rossini’s “The Barber of Seville.” Conducted with heart by Edoardo Müller, the classic overture (reminding us all of the infamous Bugs Bunny cartoon) set the mood for the performance.

SDO’s boast-worthy cast proves that this company continues to be underrated. English baritone, Christopher Maltman was the rambunctious Figaro, played with feeling and sung sweetly. Mezzo-Soprano Kirstin Chavez was the delectable Rosina, deftly singing and appropriately demure. Argentine bass-baritone was truly funny as Rosina’s ward, Dr. Bartolo. The image of Bartolo’s face covered in shaving cream was unforgettable. Notably, Italian bass Ferruccio Furlanetto (Don Basilio) in his first comic turn for SDO, had fans in the audience who flew in from San Francisco just to see him (and to see our own little company’s performance.)

But it was up and coming tenor Lawrence Brownlee as Count Almaviva who stole the show. There is much buzz surrounding this young talent who will make his debut at the Metropolitan Opera as Almaviva. The expert control he used with his rich, layered voice was phenomenal. In fact, a difficult aria for Almaviva that is often cut from “Barber” performances was restored for the capable Brownlee.

The evening was a charming romp through a rare light-hearted opera.

Review It Yourself

Everyone’s a critic. We asked audience members to send us an e-mail with their thoughts.

Did We See the Same Show?

This performance of the San Diego Opera left me wondering what happened to the San Diego Opera Company and when did they hire the San Diego Starlight Theater to take over? It is a good thing that Rosina did not have a scene from the balcony in the second act. Otherwise I and many of the other regular opera subscribers in row E agreed we would have told her to “jump” rather than be chosen by either of her suitors! Alas, there was no poison for the soprano, just the poisoning of the audience members’ ears.

Lawrence Brownlee, Count Almaviva, had the strength of a 5 foot tall Ernie from “Sesame Street” and was the very worst lead I have ever heard in the 25 years of my love affair with opera. If we could not hear this taciturn voice from the fifth row, what were those in just the first balcony hearing?

As for Christopher Maltman, Figaro, even his good looks could not save his lack luster, unfeeling and over-acted performance.

Surprisingly the phoned-in direction of Lotfi Mansouri, given his reputation with the San Francisco & Canadian Opera Companies (including “I’m a little tea pot” in the second act) made me wonder if he and Steve Martin were doing the blocking of the performance together via fax and text messaging.

The performance by Ferruccio Furlanetto, Basilio, kept the sea of red empty seats from becoming a blood bath deluge after intermission. As we have seen before, this highly talented Baritone was underused and again cast below his exceptional ability that we have seen in his San Diego performances. The highlight of the evening was likely the overture, conducted beautifully by Edoardo Müller.

This review was written by someone who pays to see opera and is a season ticket subscriber in San Diego, not one of those that are paid to give it a good review. Although not a professional critic, when other subscribers around you are asking each other after the second act, “What was that?” and “I gave up 3.5 hours of my life for this?” at the conclusion, one has to stand up and warn others, even if there are only 2 performances left.

-Michael McBride, San Diego

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