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By James L. Paulk - For the AJC

Rossini’s “The Barber of Seville,” one of the world’s most popular and enduring operas, is returning to the Atlanta Opera, opening Saturday night.
“Barber,” written in 13 days according to legend, was first performed in 1816. Its popularity is such that even during the years when bel canto opera had fallen from favor, it continued to be performed.

Rehearsing for the Atlanta Opera production of “The Barber of Seville” are (from left) Javier Abreu (Count Almaviva), Sidney Outlaw (Figaro), Stefano de Peppo (Dr. Bartolo) and Kelly Glyptis (Berta). (Atlanta Opera)

Nearly 200 years later, it still works. For opera fans, “Barber” is something like a down-home barbecue: It’s not complicated, you just show up and enjoy both the music and the timeless jokes.
The opera is based on a play by Beaumarchais, whose work also inspired Mozart’s “The Marriage of Figaro.” The story revolves around the barber, “Figaro,” who helps Count Almaviva woo Rosina, despite the intentions of the elderly Dr. Bartolo, who’d wanted her for himself.
The Atlanta presentation will feature a traditional production originally created for several companies, including Washington National Opera, with sets designed by Allen Moyer and costumes by James Scott. The stage director will be José Maria Condemi, who directed “Cosi fan tutti” here in 2011.

Stage director José Maria Condemi (left) rehearses singers Irene Roberts (Rosina) and Javier Abreu (Count Almaviva). (Atlanta Opera)
Condemi spoke of “the infectious energy” of “Barber.” “The important thing is to honor that energy while respecting the human aspect of the story,” he said.
Speaking of the cast, Condemi said: “I love that it mixes up people who have experience with people who are new to this opera. Stefano de Peppo, our Bartolo, has sung the role many times, and he brings a lot that we can pick and choose.”
The Italian baritone is also listed by the Barihunks website as one of the sexiest singers in opera today, not a quality normally associated with this role. Presumably, there will be make-up.
Figaro will be sung by Sidney Outlaw, widely recognized as a young singer on the move. Called “an opera powerhouse” by the San Francisco Chronicle, the baritone will be singing the role for the first time.
“I like him a lot,” Condemi said. “It’s a big role, a lot of notes, and he’s taking it all in stride.”
Fairly or not, Outlaw is likely to be judged in large part by how well he comes across in “Largo al factotum,” the fast-paced aria he sings at his first entrance, among the most familiar music in the entire repertory.
In an eleventh hour cast change, Puerto Rican tenor Javier Abreu will portray Count Almaviva, replacing Juan José de León. In recent years, Abreu has sung a number of Rossini roles. Opera News referred to him as “a natural Rossini singer.”
Soprano Irene Roberts, who’ll sing Rosina, is “terrific,” Condemi said. “A smart girl, and an incredible singing actress. I’m in awe of her.”
All principal singers will be making Atlanta Opera debuts, as will the conductor, Craig Kier. He worked at the company for six years as resident assistant conductor and as a coach/accompanist, so this is a sort of homecoming for him. Lately, Kier has been making his way in the conducting world, with debuts at Houston Grand Opera and Glimmerglass Opera, among other venues.
The strength of “Barber” is its astonishingly effervescent score. Conducted energetically, and with the right singers, it makes for a wonderful night out for opera lovers of all levels of experience.
But it’s surprisingly tricky. There is an unfortunate tradition of campy, overly frenetic productions that seem not to trust the audience with Rossini’s graceful wit and end up undermining the human quality of the characters.
The Atlanta Opera has improved steadily in the past few years, both musically and in terms of staging. Hampered by a limited budget, the company has a knack for finding amazing young talent.
Go see “Barber.” You won’t get shaved.

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