Review: San Diego opera is back to drive-through, and it’s a feast for the eyes and ears

The San Diego Opera House returned to the parking lot of the Pechanga Arena last weekend for a spring festival with a pandemic-themed recital and a colorful production of “The Barber of Seville.”

The festival – which continues with two more performances of “Barber” this Friday and Saturday – takes place at the same location as the company’s last driving opera last fall, “La bohème”, but it improves on the formula.

This time, there’s better video screen placement, more live close-ups of the singers, a performance area that extends beyond the stage, and the ability for audience members to view the notes. program and English translations on their mobile phones in the middle of the show. Artistically, it is a feast for the ears, with many beautiful vocal and musical performances.

Baritone David Pershall plays Figaro in “The Barber of Seville” by the San Diego Opera.

(Courtesy of J. Kat Woronowicz)

Festival conductor Bruce Stasyna not only led the San Diego Symphony in refined and diverse performances over the weekend, he also co-designed with Alan E. Hicks the opening concert, which drew 425 cars on Saturday. As in previous “One Amazing Night” recitals, opera was only one genre explored. The subtitle “Unmasking the Music of Notorious Pandemics” may sound like a sad dish, but it was fascinating.

Actor James Newcomb served as a crumpled historian, telling the story of epidemics and pandemics and the music they inspired, starting with Bach’s sad Cantata No. 25 inspired by the leprosy epidemic, sung plaintively by San Diego Opera Chorus bassist Shelby Condray. Soprano Tasha Koontz wowed with a breathtaking performance of “God what a thrill” from Gounod’s opera “Romeo and Juliet”, based on a piece with a touch of bubonic plague. Allison Spratt Pearce and Abigail Allwein soared in songs from “Secret Garden”, a musical about a girl orphaned by a cholera epidemic in India. And tenor Victor Morris surprised with the little-known 1930s protest song “The 1919 Influenza Blues”.

While most of the songs in the 90-minute concert were clearly linked to major health crises, like “Seasons of Love” from the AIDS-themed musical “Rent”, some arose out of the explosions of artistic creativity that followed. often pandemics, like that of Erich Korngold in 1920. the aria “Mein Sehnen, mein Wähnen”, sung with subtlety by baritone Michael Sokol, and two German torchlight songs by Friedrich Hollaender, sung with passion by soprano Angelina Real.

Mezzo-soprano Emily Fons plays Rosina in the San Diego Opera "The Barber of Seville."

Mezzo-soprano Emily Fons plays Rosina in “The Barber of Seville” by the San Diego Opera.

(Courtesy of J. Kat Woronowicz)

In contrast, the production freewheel “Barber” is light and mellow family entertainment with overdone and wacky performance. Directed by Keturah Stickann, the production moves eighteenth-century comedy into the 1960s, where the titular barber, Figaro, makes his bike ride in a Sgt. Pepper-inspired conductor’s coat.

The groovy sets and costumes and many of the show’s gags were inspired by the late 60’s TV show “Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In”. The go-go heroine Rosina dances in a not too mini skirt, and the poor man she loves, Lindoro, starts off in hippie outfit and ends up in a chic leisure outfit when he tells Rosina that he actually is. the wealthy Count Almaviva in disguise. In a comedic nod to social distancing, lovers exchange letters curling them into balls and throwing them at each other and Figaro shaves his boss with a razor attached to a three-foot telescoping rod.

The opera was reduced to 90 minutes, with much of the recitative plot exposure cut off. Miss a few subtitles or don’t understand the “Laugh-In” jokes and you might get lost. There are also puzzle moments involving knitting needles, a rubber chicken, and a pool float, but the sense of the game is infectious and the vocals are sublime.

Carlos Enrique Santelli plays Lindoro and Count Almaviva in the San Diego opera house "The Barber of Seville."

Carlos Enrique Santelli plays Lindoro and Count Almaviva in “The Barber of Seville” by the San Diego Opera.

(Courtesy of J. Kat Woronowicz)

The show’s star was mezzo-soprano Emily Fons as Rosina. She is charming and feminine in the role, and her coloratura vocal performance of “Una voce poco fa” was as crisp and airy as the bracing air of Sunday night. Baritone David Pershall gave a larger-than-life performance as Figaro, filling the stage with his robust vocals and comedic personality.

Like Almaviva, tenor Carlos Enrique Santelli sang with mastered ease. Rich-voiced bassist Peixin Chen made an impressive debut in the company as music teacher Don Basilio. And as Dr. Bartolo, bass-baritone Patrick Carfizzi pulled off the notoriously difficult patter tune “A un dottor della mia Sort”. Bass-baritone Joshua Arky as Almaviva Fiorello’s servant and mezzo-soprano Alexandra Rodrick as Bartolo’s servant Berta round out the main cast in reduced roles. Members of the San Diego Opera Chorus perform their vocal roles from cars in the parking lot lined up at the foot of the stage.

It’s not always clear what happens in this “Barber”, but the short duration of the show keeps the comedy sparkle from deflating and the vocals are concert hall quality.

“The Barber of Seville”

When: 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday (doors open at 6 p.m.)

Tickets: $ 200 and more (cost is per full car)

Or: 3500 Sports Arena Blvd., San Diego

Call: (619) 533-7000


San Diego Opera "The Barber of Seville."

Peixin Chen, left, and Patrick Carfizzi in a scene from “The Barber of Seville” from the San Diego opera house.

(Courtesy of J. Kat Woronowicz)

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