By ALBERT H. COHEN
SARASOTA — The Sarasota Opera has expanded for the first time in its 50 seasons to include a fall production, Rossini's Barber of Seville. And what a wonderful one it is.
Everything works here and does so with both great singing and plenty of fun on stage. This is comic opera at its best: combining the brilliant music of this popular work with stage direction (by William Gustafson) that is filled with many clever touches, looks and actions.
During the regular winter season (which runs for most of February and March), a pit orchestra is assembled and plays for all four operas. Here, the city's fine Sarasota Orchestra (formerly the Florida West Coast Symphony) combined with music director Victor DeRenzi for the first time.
From the beautifully nuanced, yet brisk and shiny overture through all the arias and ensemble pieces that fill the entire work with beauty, the orchestra was clear, precise and perfectly balanced with the voices on stage.
Mezzo-soprano Keri Alkema's Rosina was the standout. This young woman most certainly has a major career before her, so note the name and try to hear her whenever you can.
Rosina's great aria, Una voce poco fa, is a showpiece with plenty of challenges at both ends of the voice's range. So it was both delightful and surprising to hear Alkema toss in a clever ornament right at the start, as if to say, "this is going to be fun for you." And it was. Her richly resonant chest voice was matched by a silken and clean high end, making this a memorable moment.
Marco Nistico's Figaro was equally well sung and again here, the acting was good, not overdone.
The greedy Dr. Barolo was Stefano de Peppo, acting the role and singing his aria, A un dottor della mia sorte, with flair.
Bass Young-Bok Kim has become a regular at this company. His voice has grown richer and bigger over the years, and he made the most of La calunnia. Here, he sings about using slander to destroy Count Almaviva, and while he does, the orchestra grows more intense and powerful as he describes the process' effect on the people.
Of the leading roles, tenor Eric Margiore's Count Almaviva, while still well sung, was the least impressive because of a thin tone and lack of flexibility in some passages.
The supporting cast was terrific, with Maria D'Amato's Berta and Jason Plourde's Fiorello doing their parts to make the evening a success.
The lusty 12-voice male chorus could have been heard all the way to the Sunshine Skyway bridge, yet was always in tune.
Sets were appropriate, lighting just right and the costumes were elegant.
Albert H. Cohen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.