Opera Warhorses

An appreciation and analysis of the 'Standard Repertory' of opera

Opera Warhorses random header image

Daniela Mack, Alek Shrader, Auden Iversen and Maurizio Muraro Sparkle in San Francisco Opera “Barber of Seville” – November 14, 2013

November 16th, 2013

Having attended and reported on the first night of the new Emilio Sagi production of Rossini’s “Barbiere di Siviglia” [see Lucas Meachem, Javier Camarena and Isabel Leonard Romp in Sagi’s Sprightly New “Barber of Seville” – San Francisco Opera, November 13, 2013], I returned to the War Memorial Opera House for the production’s second performance.

The second night introduced four new artists to the production, Alek Shrader (Almaviva), Daniela Mack (Rosina), Audun Iversen (Figaro), and Maurizio Muraro (Dr Bartolo), each of whom will alternate performances with the first night’s cast. The four other principals (and one mute character) are scheduled for all 11 performances.

Daniela Mack’s Rosina

The evening was the occasion for the return of the Argentine soprano Daniela Mack, in what proved to be a stunning performance of Rosina.

I have reported subsequently on her successes in smaller roles [see Surreal Verismo: Pascoe, Racette and Chanev Offer a Marvelously Melodramatic “Manon Lescaut” – Washington National Opera, March 8, 2013 and the Los Angeles Opera “Albert Herring” [Countdown to the Britten Centennial: Conductor James Conlon, Director Paul Curran in Reverential Mounting of Britten’s “Albert Herring” – Los Angeles Opera, February 25, 2012].

(In the latter, she was the love interest of the  title character, played by Alek Shrader, her evening’s Almaviva.)

However, singing Rosina in Sagi’s new production at the War Memorial Opera House should be regarded as a career milestone.

[Below: Daniela Mack as Rosina; edited image, based on a Cory Weaver photograph, courtesy of the San Francisco Opera.]


Five years previously, I had been fortunate to be one of the only reviewers to be present at a performance in which she replaced an injured colleague whom, as an Adler Fellow, she was covering.

The occasion was a lead role in a Mozart opera seria [see An “Idomeneo” Surprise in San Francisco – Daniela Mack’s Princely Idamante – October 26, 2008].

I remarked at the time that “Mack appeared so comfortable in the role, and sang so beautifully with a voice that fit nicely with the other principals, that if there were not inserts in the program and the general director announcing the cast change, I suspect much of the audience would have imagined that Mack was always the management’s original choice for casting Idamante.”

Returning to the War Memorial stage after an absence of five years, she was a mesmerizing presence, dashing off Rosina’s coloratura passages with verve.

Alek Shrader as Almaviva

The Almaviva of the second night’s cast was Oklahoma tenor Alek Shrader. He is a handsome presence and good actor, possessing a leggiero voice with the flexibility to assay successfully the challenging aria Cessa di piu resistere (joining the first night Almaviva, Javier Camerata, as the only two tenors who have ever sung the aria in San Francisco Opera mainstage performances). He also accompanied himself on guitar for Lindoro’s ballad serenading Rosina.

[Below: Alek Shrader as Count Almaviva, in his disguise as an impoverished student in a chauffeured cabriolet; edited image, based on a Cory Weaver photograph, courtesy of the San Francisco Opera.]


I previously reported on his comic skills as Nemorino [Family Matinee “Elixir of Love” at S. F. Opera – November 8, 2008] and his remarkable performance of Britten’s Albert Herring in Los Angeles [See Countdown to the Britten Centennial: Conductor James Conlon, Director Paul Curran in Reverential Mounting of Britten’s “Albert Herring” – Los Angeles Opera, February 25, 2012; see also Superlative: Britten’s “Albert Herring” Brings Big Time Laugh-in to Santa Fe Opera – August 25, 2010.]

Shrader also has had a lead tenor assignment in the David Gockley English language translation of “The Magic Flute” [Perfect Game: Gunn, Shagimuratova Shine in New Kaneko-Designed “Magic Flute” – June 13, 2012.]

 Figaro and Bartolo 

The evening’s two major San Francisco Opera debuts were Auden Iversen, the Norwegian baritone singing Figaro and Maurizio Muraro as Dr Bartolo.

Figaro enters the opera in a blaze of glory, singing the ultra-familiar aria Largo al factotum and engaging in a lively series of duets with Almaviva. Iversen’s Figaro was eye-catching and ear-pleasing.

[Below: Audun Iversen as Figaro, sitting on his wheeled vehicle; edited image, based on a Cory Weaver photograph, courtesy of the San Francisco Opera.]


I had been impressed with Maurizio Muraro in a performance in Paris of the other Dr Bartolo – the character in Mozart’s “The Marriage of Figaro”.

The Mozart opera, of course, is the sequel to “Barber of Seville” in the trilogy of Beaumarchais plays on which both Rossini’s and Mozart’s operas are based. [See my review of the performance, in which Isabel Leonard, the previous evening’s Rosina, also appeared, at Fine Cast Revives Strehler’s Treasured “Nozze di Figaro” Production – Opera National de Paris, May 31, 2011.]

Muraro, who gave a masterful performance, continues the great tradition of Italian buffo artists that have graced the War Memorial stage.

[Below: Almaviva (Alek Shrader, left), disguised as Lindoro, who is disguised as Don Alonso, is engaged in a deception of Dr Bartolo (Maurizio Muraro, right); edited image, based on a Cory Weaver photograph, courtesy of the San Francisco Opera.]


Emilio Sagi and the New Production

The San Francisco Opera has for the third time in a half century invested in a new production of “Barber” (this year, collaborating with an opera company based in Vilnius, Lithuania).

The new Sagi production has come into being a half-century after the company’s famous Guenther Rennert production [50 Year Anniversaries: Grist, Valletti, Prey in “Barbiere di Siviglia” – San Francisco Opera, September 28, 1963] and a decade after what to my taste was its infamous Johannes Schaaf/Hans Dieter Schaal production, last seen in 2006  [see Deconstructing S.F. Opera’s Super-sized “Barber” – November 12, 2006].

Emilio Sagi’s previous work at the San Francisco Opera had been as stage director for the Zach Brown production of Verdi’s “Don Carlos”, performed in 1998 and 2004 (and still owned by the company) and in the cast illness-plagued 2002 mounting of Brown’s beautiful Washington National Opera production of Verdi’s “Otello”.

Although I had appreciated Sagi’s controversial staging of “Don Carlos” (remember the auto da fe scene in which figures representing the souls of the immolated heretics ascend into heaven?), it is not the San Francisco Opera stagings on which Sagi’s reputation in the American West is based.

[Below: to help Figaro (Audun Iversen, left) explain to Almaviva (Alek Shrader, right) where his barbershop is located, a map of Seville descends from the sky; edited image, based on a Cory Weaver photograph, courtesy of the San Francisco Opera.]


His production of Donizetti’s famous French comedy has charmed Houston, Seattle and San Diego  [see, for example, Vargicova, Costello, Podles and Burdette Romp in Hilarious, Beautifully Sung “Fille du Regiment” – San Diego Opera, January 26, 2013

It is the Los Angeles Opera that has mounted his “Carmen” [Domingo at Helm for a Stellar “Carmen” – Los Angeles Opera, September 21, 2013] in three different seasons,  as well as Torroba’s “Luisa Fernanda”  [Los Angeles Opera Brings Zarzuela Back Home – “Luisa Fernanda”], the famous zarzuela, for Placido Domingo.

Los Angeles Opera also co-produced Sagi’s earlier production of “Barber” [see Florez and DiDonato Dominate Los Angeles Opera’s “Barbiere di Siviglia” – December 6, 2009 and Korchak, Coburn and Meachem Illuminate Alternate “Barber of Seville” Cast – Los Angeles Opera, December 5, 2009].

Some of the concepts of the Los Angeles production are carried over to the new production, including a color scheme in which white dominates the early scenes, with increasing amounts of color introduced into the later scenes and especially the second act and finale.

[Below: Rosina (Daniela Mack, front left) and Almaviva (Alek Shrader, front right) are together as Figaro (Audun Iversen, left, in rear) looks on; edited image, based on a Cory Weaver photograph, courtesy of the San Francisco Opera.]


Also embedded in the DNA of the Sagi productions old and new is the extensive use of dancers, not only to remind us constantly that Seville and surrounding Andalusia are the geographic centers of the flamenco style, but to take on a myriad of duties to move along the action.

In the new production, all action moves to the patio and street adjoining Dr Bartolo’s house. All the interior scenes of the previous production disappear. Wheeled vehicles, which included Figaro’s barbershop on wheels, are abundant in the San Francisco version.

Almaviva arrives in a bicycle drawn cab, Figaro drives what one might term a Figaromobile, Muraro’s Bartolo and A. J. Gluekert’s Ambrogio ride an exercise bike, and the piano in Rosina’s lesson scene is also outside the house on wheels.

Not only is most action centered on the street and patio, but a bit of it also takes place in the space under the patio, from which a guitar might appear, or which Andrea Silvestrelli’s Don Basilio might use as a passage.

Basilio suggests to Bartolo in La calumnia that, when dealing with a public figure like Count Almaviva, nothing beats character assassination. As the aria progresses, an extensive white cloth appears from under the edge of the patio and, with the help of the dancers writhing underneath the cloth, spreads across part of the stage as Basilio’s description of how effective slander can be.

One noteworthy change – at opera’s end in the original Sagi production, the Almavivas leave for their honeymoon in a passenger balloon. The new production, continuing the wheeled vehicle theme, has them leave in a red 1957 model sportscar (pulled across the stage at opera’s end).

[Below: fireworks greet the marriage festivities, and a red sportscar awaits a honeymoon couple; edited image, based on a Cory Weaver photograph, courtesy of the San Francisco Opera.]


Praise is deserved for the San Francisco Opera Chorus under Chours Master Ian Robertson and for the San Francisco Opera Dancers ( choreographer Nuria Castejon, Dance Master Lawrence Pech). Pepa Ojanguren was costume designer.


San Francisco Opera has a great hit in its new “Barber” production. I recommend it without reservation for both long term opera goers and newcomers to live opera performance, including young audiences.

Its two casts are nicely matched, and each offers sufficient strengths to suggest that those able to do so might consider attending performances of both casts.


Tags: 2005-2016: William's Reviews