Barber and Barberillo

Barber and Barberillo

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From the In Series, a no-frills double bill

By Charles T. Downey
Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2012

Although the cold months of January and February are a prime opera-viewing time of year in some cities, the stage of the Washington National Opera is generally dark. A few smaller companies do their best to fill the void, like the In Series at the Source. Its latest no-frills production is a double bill of Samuel Barber's "A Hand of Bridge" and Francisco Barbieri's zarzuela "El Barberillo de Lavapies," heard on Sunday afternoon.

The Barber opera, which lasts about nine minutes, was more of an appetizer than its own course. Created in 1959 for the Spoleto Festival's "Album Leaves" cabaret-style series, the compact libretto by Gian Carlo Menotti explores the inner lives of two couples playing a bridge game, with each musical confession lit in turn by a spotlight in this staging directed by Rick Davis. Soprano Randa Rouweyha had the best vocal turn, in Geraldine's sad, lyrical plea for her ailing mother. Most of the charming detail of the score, including the jazz snippets for piano, double-bass, and drum kit, was lost in the reduced accompaniment, played resourcefully on an unbecoming upright piano by music director Billie Whittaker.

Elizabeth Pringle's adaptation of "El Barberillo," created for the In Series in 1999, changes two of the characters into a noisy married couple who appear to be drawn into the zarzuela from the audience.

It would not have hurt to have trimmed some of the more inane numbers in the process, so that the piece, which mostly sounds like cut-rate Rossini, would drag less. The highlight of the cast was the bubbly Lamparilla of Peter Joshua Burroughs, with some charming dancing and choreography from Heidi Kershaw. This kind of cute comedy, modest in production values and vocal quality, tries very hard to please. Its success will depend on the expectations of the listener.

This production continues through Jan. 22.

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