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The Barber of Capitola

The new Bay Shore Lyric Opera Company debuts with a joyous but uneven Rossini

By Philip Collins

AT LAST, OPERA by the sea, or by the bay, at least. The music community in Santa Cruz has been curious for months trying to find out just who the Bay Shore Lyric Opera Company is--as well as what it's been doing to Capitola's beloved, funky old movie theater.

I found answers to these and other questions on June 20 when the Bay Shore Company opened the doors of the newly remodeled theater to the public for a production of Rossini's The Barber of Seville. Although the company had debuted officially in March with four performances of La Bohème, their three-week run of The Barber of Seville marks its first full-fledged production.

Devotees of Rossini's adorably melodic farce are certain to find some delight in this exuberant revival of The Barber of Seville. That is, if they are not too stuffy. Since Bay Shore Lyric Opera is still a fledgling, it came as no shock that various facets of the performance I attended were found wanting. So what if the set change into Scene II--facilitated by cast members and crew--took as long as an aria with triple da capos or that the piano was poorly tuned or that the cast's singing abilities were about as level as the Alps?

The essence of Rossini's joyous romp came off splendidly. Due to the talents of several key professionals and immense collective energy, the opera's comic appeal was delivered intact--and at least some of its musical charms as well.

The Barber of Seville and Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro are both based on stories by Pierre Beaumarchais. Even though Rossini's adaptation was composed almost 30 years after the Mozart, it nevertheless precedes the latter in terms of storyline. In The Marriage of Figaro, Count Almaviva is already married to Countess Rosina, while the gist of The Barber of Seville concerns Figaro's (the barber) matchmaking on their behalf.

The single obstacle is Dr. Bartolo, who is determined to marry Rosina, his ward. Thanks to Figaro's assorted ploys of deception (some would make Dumb and Dumber look like Smart and Smarter), Rosina and the count are wed by the story's end.

Baritone Louis Lebherz made decisive contributions to the evening's enjoyment. Not only did he offer beguiling vocal ability in his performance as the music teacher, Don Basilio, but his acute stage direction infused the production's humor with a consistent sense of style.

Even though Don Basilio's presence in the opera is limited, Lebherz' solo and ensemble singing anchored the tonality of each scene he was in. Likewise, one sensed his influence as stage director to be ongoing, even when in character. In his scenes with Rosina and Figaro during Act II, Lebherz prodded pacing and focus among his colleagues without compromising Don Basilio's insensible nature.

Young Sandra Rubalcara brought a songbird's sweetness to the role of Rosina, sailing across the far reaches of register with glowing flute timbres that voiced Rosina's innocence perfectly. Her seamless phrasing of the opening aria, "Una voce poco fa," grounded the performance with emotional credibility and her introduction to "Ah! qual colpo" in the final scene wrapped the show up infectiously.

As Count Almaviva, Michel Taddei was engaging, despite a lackluster vocal performance. Throughout the count's aria "Se il mio nome," one longed for Taddei's fine dramatic characterization to take on vocal dimensions and fill the hall. But it didn't happen.

David Auerbach's Figaro didn't come across very resonantly, either. From Figaro's famous opening aria, "Largo al factotum," it was apparent that Auerbach was formidably challenged by the role's demands. Juan Sánchez Lozano personified the oily likes of Doctor Bartolo competently but offered a tame stab at the role's most delicious number, "A un dottor della mia sorte."

The orchestra, under the direction of Anthony Quartuccio, provided serviceable accompaniment to the singers and some well-wrought ensemble playing--but few sparks. The overture was slow out of the gate and subsequently interminable.

The big surprise was how accommodating the Capitola Theater turned out to be for live musical theater. The theater's vaulted ceiling--reminiscent of a Quonset hut--brings an interesting architectural spin to bear. The acoustics, while neither radiant nor particularly warm, have clarity and a good balance between stage and pit.

Although the process of converting the venue into a space fully hospitable to live theatrical productions is not complete, Bay Shore Lyric Opera Company has made a successful first stride in that direction.

The Barber of Seville plays July 11­12 at 8pm and July 13 at 3pm at the Capitola Theater, 120 Monterey Ave., Capitola. Tickets are $25. (408/476-0493)

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From the July 3-9, 1997 issue of Metro.

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