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Sunday, June 28, 2009
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08:59 PM EDT

06/28/09 07:05 AM

‘Barber’ deserving of accolades


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Want some popcorn with your opera? You can have it at the Riviera Theatre, where the new Nickel City Opera is in residence this weekend doing a bang-up job with Rossini’s “The Barber of Seville.”

With so much good news surrounding the company’s first production, knowing where to begin is difficult. Friday’s performance of the slapstick opera by Gioachino Rossini featured tremendous voices, fine comic timing, lovely sets, sumptuous 18th century costumes and a competent orchestra. It topped the opera productions I have seen at the Chautauqua Institution. That was how good it was.

Earthy humor abounded. Directed by University at Buffalo graduate David MacAdam, the opera is being presented mostly in English, with a couple of arias in the original Italian. The words fit the music well, and the jokes were nonstop. This “Barber” had a youthful, populist feel, probably the way it did when Rossini wrote it.

From the beginning, you got the idea that the opera was in good hands. Benjamin Brecher, as the Count Almaviva, radiated the appropriate confidence. He navigated the twists and curlicues of the Count’s lines with clarity and panache.

This is high praise, but John Packard was the best Figaro I have ever seen, and others said the same thing. His singing is lusty, on the mark and marvelously expressive. He even does his own guitar playing, accompanying the count’s serenade.

As Rosina, Nadia Petrella is world class — beautiful and funny. Her high notes were clear as bells, her demanding lines dazzling. Even in the face of the treacherous “Una voce poco fa,” she projected humor and ease. That’s the crowning challenge of Rossini — you not only have to pull off challenging vocal derring-do, but you have to enjoy it.

A special bravo to Christopher Mallory, who made Don Bartolo a delight to watch and to hear. Making a bad-guy role consistently entertaining is challenging. Your eyes were always drawn to him.

Valerian Ruminski brought his usual vocal power and off-the-wall comedy to the role of Don Basilio.

Rosemaria Serrano was a fine Berta, and Brian Cheverie and Kendrew Heriveaux also distinguished themselves. The balance was good, and the ensemble work sparkled. One crowd scene involving a police force got as hilarious as a Marx Brothers movie. In a superb comic touch, one figure on stage slept all through it, his walking stick by his side. That is the kind of production this is. Nothing is neglected.

The Eastern Festival Symphony Orchestra, led by Zachary Israel Nobile Kampler, played well, especially considering it is a student orchestra. The violins’ pizzicato, the horns’ touches of color — it all admirably followed the breathless action on stage.

Finally, the Riviera itself was a star. It is a great place for opera, not too big or too small. The acoustics were good. A few members of OperaBuffs, who were out in force, pointed out that it reminded them of elegant European opera houses.

Opera Review

“The Barber of Seville”

Presented by Nickel City Opera, Friday night in the Riviera Theatre, 67 Webster St., North Tonawanda. Another performance at 2:30 p. m. today. For more information, call 692-2413 or visit

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