In the second act, it felt like Burton and Partridge were no longer holding back dramatically, and in their final confrontation during the play within a play, both singers delivered the most heart wrenching vocals of the opera. Their struggle was rife with emotional and physical violence, and predictably, it did not end well for Nedda or her lover, Silvio.
Matthew Polenzani, in his fifteenth(!) role at the Lyric, is the dramatic anchor of the cast. His dependably excellent and grounded singing is ideal for the role of this grand, eloquent king. Even in the most bravura moments, Polenzani's singing was refined and elegant.
Antinous, Hadrian's lover, has possibly the dopest (and gayest) entrance of any opera, ever. Surrounded by a bevy of mostly-nude, highly-sculpted, male dancers, I can only imagine tenor (and friend of Schmopera's) Isaiah Bell was living his absolute best life - and it showed in his singing. From his first "Antinous" when the cacophany in the pit mirrors the chaotic joy Hadrian feels, to his final moment onstage, Bell is a vision.
In fact, this whole production makes reference to human rights abuses across the world; projected background images include those of Colombian mothers protesting the army-sponsored murder of their sons, to Goya's painting "The Third of May", a depiction of the execution of unarmed soldiers. This production misses no opportunity to shine a light on the corruption of power, and the resultant loss of human rights.
Director Nancy Rhodes describes it as "crossover" but it might be more appropriate to call it "criss-cross over"; the music never stops and the singers mostly sing, but sometimes halt to utter a comment, exclamation, or quick exchange of dialogue. The combination always feels just right, as the emotions and/or whimsy of the characters rise and fall.
So was this production of Barbiere overdesigned? For sure. But unlike most overdesigned productions, the director remembered that, at the end of the day, opera is a storytelling medium, and she carried that knowledge into the performances just as much as the production design. The result was thus a delight to watch, and even with the occasional misstep it proved to be perhaps the best demonstration of Italian opera I have seen in a long time.
With a voice that's all crystal clear, ringing resonance, yet absolutely weightless, she danced through the fioratura of "Sempre libera" without breaking a sweat, and finishing with a perfect high E-flat, then sang with a breathtakingly tender sotto voce in her scene with Germont at "Dite alla giovine," before opening up later in the act with the broad, sweeping "Amami Alfredo!" while never over-singing. In the final act she offered a gloriously floated high A at the end of simply and beautifully sung "Addio del passato."
It's funny how easy it is, as a woman in 2018, to look at someone like Maria Callas and decide that she is unquestionably forward-thinking, a strong feminist who worked endlessly for her success. And then she says that being a wife and mother is "the main vocation for a woman."
Director Richard Jones deserves fervent applause for his three-dimensional realization of this show. Characters and set-pieces alike moved and reacted with cinematic deliberateness. Rising conductor Domingo Hindoyan makes his Lyric debut in this production. The LOC orchestra responded with a lush blanket of sound, emanating from the pit and supporting the singers.
The choice of making La Rondine and Verdi's La Traviata the book ends to the season is interesting. It is interesting to look at two "kept women" who fall in love with the young and impetus tenor, retire to the countryside, and then after a while have to part ways out of shame of their past and in the name of honor. Magda goes back to her old life and Ruggero is left heart broken. Magda had a choice, and ultimately Violetta does not.