REVIEWS by Willard Manus


LOS ANGELES -- Russian-born baritone Vladimir Chernov lit up the stage in Los Angeles Opera's recent revival of Rossini's ever-popular THE BARBER OF SEVILLE, the sixth attraction of the 2002-2003 season. Chernov, who first assayed the role of the wily barber at the Kirov in 1984, has refined his performance over the years and has made it his signature role, thanks to his big, warm voice, expressive acting and flair for comedy. An appreciative audience gave him a standing ovation at curtain call.

Though Rossini's score, written at breakneck speed in 1815, used bits and pieces of earlier works of his, it still contains some of his most inspired melodies, especially in the passages he wrote for the barber. As Chernov said in an interview, "You would need two or three lifetimes to completely understand the barber's complex character and the music Rossini wrote for him."

L.A. Opera's revival was directed by Michael Hampe, who delivered a conventional, straightforward production--no tricks, no updating in the name of relevancy. The set by Mauro Pano was used back in 1997, when the production came from the Cologne Opera. It is an elaborate and handsome thing which served as both the exterior and interior of Count Almaviva's home, but which also created some acoustical problems which occasionally flattened or muffled voices.

The singers, led by Chernov, prevailed, though. Carmen Oprisanu, the slender Romanian mezzo-soprano, was in good voice as Rosina, and also used her beauty and stage presence effectively. Suzanna Guzmann as the old maid Berta registered strongly as well, as did John Osborn as Almaviva, Bruno Pola as Dr Bartolo, Simone Alberghini as Don Basilio, and David Babinet as Fiorello. Outside of Chernov, there was no great singing on display, but Rossini's silvery, magical music was delivered with spirit and gusto.

Gabriele Ferro, who last conducted here in 2000 (La Cenerentola) was a strong force in the pit.

Los Angeles Opera also recently announced its 2003-2004 season, which will offer 69 opera performances, an increase of 11 over 2002-03. The year's "daring opening," said artistic director Placido Domingo, will be on Sept. 10 when the company mounts a production of Berlioz's The Damnation of Faust, directed by the avant-gardist Achim Freyer and featuring Denyce Graves and Samuel Ramey.

Freyer's direction of last year's Mass in B-Minor by Bach raised the hackles of some, but Domingo spoke up for him at the press conference. Faust is a co-production with the Polish National Opera.

Domingo also touted the world premiere (Sept. 14) of Nicholas and Alexandra by the youthful American composer Deborah Drattell, directed by theatre director Anne Bogart, with Nancy Gustafson and Rodney Gilfry in the leads. Domingo will also sing himself, in the role of Rasputin.

Such other eclectic directors as Robert Wilson, Jurgen Flimm and Marthe Keller are scheduled to work at LA Opera in the 2003-2004 season, which will mark the first time the company will not have to share the Chandler Pavilion with the Los Angeles Philharmonic. The Phil is moving into its new home, Walt Disney Concert Hall, in October.

The other coming L.A. Opera attractions are: Lucia di Lammermoor by Donizetti; Orfeo and Eurydice by Gluck; Madama Butterfly by Puccini (in a new production by Wilson, with Kent Nagano conducting); Die Frau Ohne Schatten by Strauss, designed by David Hockney; The Marriage of Figaro by Mozart (directed by Flimm); Il Trovatore by Verdi, sung by Sondra Radvanofsky and Franco Farina; Hei-Kyung Hong in Recital; and Dimitri Hvorostovsky in Recital.

Subscriptions are now on sale (call 213-972-8001 or visit Single tickets will go on sale Aug. 3, 2003.