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Close Your Eyes and Enjoy

Boston Lyric Opera’s Barber of Seville

By Bence Olvecsky

Staff Writer

The Barber of Seville

Shubert Theatre

Oct. 8, 11, and 15 at 7:30 p.m.; Oct. 13 at 3 p.m.

By Gioacchino Rossini

Boston Lyric Opera

Conducted by Stephen Lord

Starring Lawrence Brownlee, Margaret Lattimore, Chester Patton, Terry Hodges

Imagine Mike Tyson in a wig and period costume serenading Julianne Moore to win her eternal love. It’s a hard one, but if you can evoke the mood and feeling of such an imaginary scenario, you also capture the essence of what Boston Lyric Opera’s tiresome version of Rossini’s The Barber of Seville is like.

The production, which originates from Teatro Communale di Ferrara in the composer’s home country of Italy, is often preposterous and at times comic, but the laughs turn to yawns as the three-hour production quickly loses steam.

That’s a shame, since The Barber of Seville deserves better treatment. Arguably the finest and most famous comic opera ever written, it has the potential for being great entertainment, with Rossini’s gift for melody and comic relief giving it a timeless appeal.

The Boston Lyric Opera production starts out well. The opera’s famous overture is played elegantly by the orchestra, setting the tone for an engaging evening, but when the curtain goes up, the bubble of anticipation burst.

The acting is what you would expect from a bunch of theater-obsessed high school students: mannered, obvious, and exaggerated, and the casting is also a bit unfortunate. Lawrence Brownlee (the Mike Tyson of the opening sentence) is Count Almaviva, a supposedly studly aristocrat who is trying to seduce the beautiful Rosina (Julianne Moore look-alike Margaret Lattimore) with the help of the Barber (Keith Phares).

That Mr. Brownlee is a head shorter than Ms. Lattimore makes the romantic scenes less comic than embarrassing, and the production is not helped by the stage set either. Francesco Calcagnini’s colossal pieces of cream-colored architecture wobble and make noises as they are shuffled around the Shubert stage. The director, Stefano Vizioli, should take responsibility for having messed up what could have been an enjoyable evening.

But all may not be lost. Many people go to the opera for the music, and sit through the famous arias with their eyes closed to fully enjoy the singing. The Boston Lyric Opera’s production caters to this crowd, with the singers and the orchestra delivering a first rate musical performance under the direction of Stephen Lord.

Particularly captivating is Margaret Lattimore’s lyrical mezzo-soprano. She is definitely a rising star in the opera world, and will have her own recital as part of this season’s celebrity series. Another highlight is Chester Patton’s interpretation of the music master Don Basilio. His commanding bass and spindly figure gives his performance an eerie Nosferatu-like feel. Mr. Brownlee, though miscast, gives the audience moments of beauty with his sparkling, if uneven, tenor.

Given the nature of the production, this is a rare opportunity to get the most attractive seats in the house at the cheapest price. For once, it’s the nosebleed seats that give you the best combo: restricted view and great acoustics.