One of the practical realities of the enormous expense of producing opera is that all productions—both the good and the bad—will pop up again. This can be a pleasure if a production was interesting and creative the first time around, but a real chore if not. The current Lyric Opera production of Rossini’s “The Barber of Seville” was first seen here nearly twenty years ago and has been revived every half a dozen years or so since, which means that if you enjoyed John Conklin’s free-floating red furniture across sky blue backgrounds with clouds the first time around, you’ll enjoy it again and again and again. If, however, you were left wondering what any of this had to do with “Barber of Seville” in the first place, your confusion is likely to multiply with each viewing. This revival was intended for Juan Diego Flórez, who wowed us in Rossini’s “Cinderella” two seasons ago and is the Rossini tenor of the moment, but who swallowed a fishbone in sunny Barcelona and somehow thought recovering there was preferable to doing so in a gray and cold Chicago in February. Go figure. Oh yes, and since the baritone set to play Bartolo was covering for another no-show who was set to sing the lead in “Falstaff,” there ended up being as many musical chairs in the casting as there are chairs left on the ceiling. With expectations that low, this is a “Barber” that despite coming up a few hairs short, is still a fun experience. Holding things together through all of these changes, Italian conductor Donato Renzetti keeps the orchestra flexible enough for all of the singing yet brisk and light at all times. And despite some vocal mismatches, everyone could be heard and blended as well as possible. Iowa tenor John Osborn may not have Flórez’ glorious timbre and flexible technique, but he does a solid job, especially in the masquerade scenes and grew more confident as the evening went on. Midwest mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato may not have the dark color that some of us prefer for Rosina but her vocal agility and her acting ability more than compensate. Those of us who have experienced Chicago baritone Philip Kraus’ trademark portrayal of Bartolo over the years at Chicago Opera Theater and his many comic performances at Light Opera Works—a company he founded and shepherded for a decade and a half before his own board unceremoniously dumped him—are delighted to see him singing and acting better than ever in a role that has truly become his own at his hometown opera company. (Dennis Polkow)
At the Civic Opera House, 20 N. Wacker, (312)332-2244. This production is now closed.