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St. Petersburg Opera delights with its take on 'Barber of Seville'

Blake Friedman as Count Almaviva, Gabriel Preisser as Figaro, Megan Marino as Rosina, Tony Dillon as Dr. Bartolo and Todd Donovan as Don Basilio in St. Petersburg Opera’s The Barber of Seville.
Published Feb. 2, 2015

ST. PETERSBURG — Everyone knows the refrain: "Figaro, Figaro, Figaro!"

But do you know the context? Figaro, a barber, is singing his own name all smug-like because everyone wants his help. Why? Because Figaro has a talent that today we would probably call being a great wingman. He's the town hair guy, but he's also a factotum, kind of a life fixer, dreaming up tactics and plots guaranteed to set the lovelorn up for romantic victory every time.

To witness something so firmly entrenched in our culture live, performed by top talents on a local stage, is a delight. In its latest production, the St. Petersburg Opera Company captures the spirit and madcappery of one of the greatest comic operas of all time, The Barber of Seville. The cast performs in Italian with English translations cast over the stage at the Palladium Theater.

The story is simple. The wealthy Count Almaviva has fallen for a beautiful young lady named Rosina. But Rosina is under the care of cranky old Dr. Bartolo, who intends to marry her. She finds him creepy and is not into it.

Almaviva doesn't want Rosina to love him for his money, so he gets Figaro ($$$) to help. They devise a plot that has Almaviva entering the doctor's home in a variety of disguises, from a drunken soldier to a flamboyant music teacher.

Tenor Blake Friedman takes on the role of Almaviva, and though his voice is silken and strong, he shines brightest in his comedy chops (you'd be forgiven for thinking of an operatic Jack Black). On Friday, when he called Dr. Bartolo "Dr. Blockhead," the audience rolled.

The part of Rosina was written for the rare contralto, but nowadays is usually performed by a mezzo-soprano. That's the case here with Megan Marino, who shows impressive range and ventures confidently through Rossini's lower notes. She channels Rosina's obstinate and plotting nature with a sly smile. It's fun to watch her stomp around the stage, caught in the whirlwind of crazies in her house.

But the star here, of course, is Figaro, played by impossibly charming baritone Gabriel Preisser. You can't help but wonder why Rosina wouldn't have eyes for him, as they seem to have more chemistry. Preisser approaches the character with a wink and swagger, his comedy a subtle foil to the over-the-top caricatures of the Count. Whenever Figaro is on stage, the energy sizzles.

Director Karl W. Hesser has found plenty of smart opportunities for comic reactions, from Rosina bored, fibbing and showing off her cross-stitch project, to the Count looking exhausted when Rosina gives him heck. The use of the stage is wide and engaging.

The orchestra, under the lead of maestro Mark Sforzini, sounded pristine as usual, though playing tucked inside the tall walls of the set put a kind of blanket over the sound. And if you sit in the balcony to the left, beware a flashing light that will sear your eyes in the second act.

Still, it all makes for a special night out in St. Petersburg, proving that even in 2015, everyone can use a little Figaro, Figaro, Figaro.

Contact Stephanie Hayes at shayes@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8716. Follow @stephhayes.

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