Lyric’s “Barber”: Rossini’s Rollicking Romance

Gioachino Rossini’s “The Barber of Seville” is a comedy that just won’t quit.

The Lyric Opera of Chicago‘s sunny production, which opened February 1 at the Civic Opera House, mines the comic vein with gusto, enhancing the story’s plot with more physical antics than I’ve seen on Lyric’s stage in years.

This is the opera in which the barber, Figaro, sings one of the best known arias in the repertoire. Lyric’s Figaro is no less than American baritone and Chicago favorite Nathan Gunn, named by People Magazine as “one of the sexiest men alive” in 2008. He’s in great voice and great shape in this production. At one point he jumps up on the Spanish-style grillwork that frames the stage.

Gunn delivers Figaro’s famous “Largo al factotum” surrounded by five Spanish beauties, an attentive audience to which he can chronicle the woes of constantly being the go-to guy for getting things done in Seville. “One at a time,” he pleads, “one at a time.”

He’s not the lover in this tale, however. That is Count Almaviva, sung by handsome American tenorAlex Schrader, who has also been working out—practically chinning himself as he seeks to surmount the balcony of his beloved Rosina. That starring role is sung by Isabel Leonard, an American soprano in her Lyric Opera debut.

Schrader’s tenor is full and flexible. He nimbly navigates Rossini’s ornamentations and throws himself into ridiculous poses as he tries to present himself properly to the object of his affection. Leonard for her part is a true coloratura, presenting the composer’s vocal leaps, trills and cascades without a sign of strain.

This all-American line-up includes bass-baritone Kyle Ketelsen as Rosina’s music teacher Don Basilio, mezzo-soprano Tracy Cantin as Berta, the housekeeper, plus baritone Will Liverman and tenor John Irvin. The only Italian in the bunch is Alessandro Corbelli, who plays Dr. Bartolo, Rosina’s elderly guardian. Corbelli specializes in the role of this deluded senior who imagines that the youthful Rosina will marry him, and he is perfection, stomping and fuming in fine baritone voice, but eventually in vain.

Credit must go to Tony Award-winning American director Rob Ashford in his Lyric debut. No one sits still for a moment in this rollicking romance, and that’s surely a reflection of his experience on Broadway stages and in London, where he captured the prestigious Olivier Award in 2012.

Italian conductor Michele Mariotti makes his Lyric debut in the pit, leading the orchestra, which gets better and better each season.

The opening night audience was filled not only with young families, children and grandchildren in tow, but also teenagers, the young women especially dressed to the nines. Lyric pioneered the use of super-titles and today laughter explodes instantly in the golden Art Deco theater. Get away to sunny Seville—it will prove a tonic for the chill of winter.


The Barber of Seville” is performed in Italian with English super-titles. It runs in repertoire through February 28 at the Civic Opera House, 20 N. Wacker Drive, Chicago. For tickets and information visit the Lyric Opera website

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