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Teatro Lirico's 'Barber' brings a barrel of laughs

Rossini's ''The Barber of Seville" is a comedy so expertly carpentered that it can still make an audience laugh 189 years after its premiere. It did so again last night in the Cutler Majestic Theatre, thanks to the touring Teatro Lirico D'Europa.

The characters and plot were not new even in 1816. An elderly fool, Dr. Bartolo, wants to marry his beautiful young ward, Rosina; his efforts are defeated by a lively coalition -- a wealthy incognito Count; quick-witted Figaro, the barber of Seville; and the resourceful Rosina herself. Rossini's irresistible melodies bubble up in profusion, and it's fun to hear accomplished singers leap over the vocal hurdles and watch them put their personal stamp on the famous comic scenes -- Figaro brandishes a razor and splatters shaving cream to distract Dr. Bartolo while the Count and Rosina pursue their amorous intrigue.

Teatro Lirico, based in Bulgaria, has brought 12 operas here since 2000; ''The Barber" is the only one, so far, where everyone is still alive at the end. The serviceable presents Dr. Bartolo's home, done up in stucco, in front of a pretty, wrinkled, painted backdrop of the skyline of Seville. Director Giorgio Lalov knows how to put all the traditional gags across, but also contributes some new ones of his own and evidently lets the singers do what works for them. The orchestra gave a roughshod performance of the overture, but soon settled in for Martin Mazik, the conductor. Mazik favored bracing tempos, which were sometimes more than the cast could quite manage. Lalov brought them all front and center for the big second-act finale, but they still couldn't keep it together, and there were some other dicey moments. Still, Mazik is very young and quite talented; there were many fizzy musical details.

There were two Americans in the cast, Benjamin Brecher as the Count and baritone Shon Sims in the title role. Brecher is a witty and engaging actor and can actually sing rapid passagework that many other tenors smear. Sims did not put his best foot forward in his famous opening patter aria, which was overdone and strained, but later turned in some nimble vocalism and acting. He also plays the guitar well enough to accompany Brecher in his serenade. Hristo Sarafov, the company's veteran character baritone, offered a Dr. Bartolo whose dithering self-delusions became touching as well as amusing.

The best singer was Viara Zhelezova, the Rosina -- she has a lovely, limber mezzo that she can move at warp speed, like Cecilia Bartoli. She's charming and musical, and the moment she sized up the Count's gold lame vest and realized that her boyfriend was not an impoverished student was priceless. Bass Constantine Videv sounded and looked sepulchral as the venal music master, Don Basilio, and, intentionally or not, paid tribute to his audience by sporting a pair of bright red sox.

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