The closing of the Amato Opera in 2009 left a gap in the New York opera community. For 60 years, Anthony Amato ran a chamber-sized opera company in the East Village, presenting operas in a stripped-down format with minimal orchestra. With this sturdy production of The Barber of Seville, the Bleecker Street Opera (located a block away rom the old Amato house) has gone a long way towards filling that void.
In this tiny theater, the singers are almost right on top of you. In the title role, Garth Taylor was a finely tuned, comic Figaro, handling the buffo patter with ease and displaying an easy charm. Starting with his energetic arrival from the back of the house, he held the audience, even pulling two audiences members out out for a brief "participation" moment during "Largo al factotum." Let it be said that Figaro is a master of many trades, including self-aggrandizement!
Argentinian mezzo Malena Dayen was a fierce, independent Rosina, armed with a flexible (if breathy) voice that could swell to great volume when needed. Less pleasing was veteran tenor Anthony Daino in the key role of Count Almaviva. He has a too much of a good thing, a tenore di forza that is not well-suited to an intimate comic opera performed in a small space. However, his performance got better as the evening went on. Once he came in as the drunken soldier in Act I, things improved as Almaviva went from being a romantic hero to another element in the comic lunacy onstage.
Bass-baritone Sam Smith is a minor discovery, giving an excellent performance as the scheming Don Basilio. In "La Calunia" and the Act II "Buona sera" ensemble, he displayed a resonant voice with a pleasing, fully rounded sound. As Dr. Bartolo, Richard Cassell sang an excellent, accurate "Un dottor della mia sorte", but relied on annoying comic schtick (including wheezing, gasping and coughing repeatedly) to get through the part. True, the libretto has jokes about sneezing powder, but this was a bit much to put up with. This Barber may assure that the tradition of intimate opera n the East Village will continue for some years yet.