Il signor Bruschino


Harry Forbes

Much as Trial by Jury is praised for encompassing the best of Gilbert and Sullivan in one economical act, Gioachino Rossini's 1813 Il Signor Bruschino, with a libretto by G.M. Foppa, offers the cream of that prolific composer's work in potent microcosm: His trademark arias (plaintive and declarative), duets (romantic and comic), patter numbers, and intricate ensembles are all here.

The plot concerns young lovers Florville and Sofia. The son of an old enemy of Gaudenzio, Sofia's guardian, Florville must woo her in the guise of young Bruschino, to whom she is, sight unseen, betrothed. Much of the humor revolves around the tortures through which the elder Bruschino (sturdily embodied by Marco Nisticò) is put to get him to acknowledge the imposter as his son.

Cleverly reset in 1960s Italy, on Donald Eastman's stylish white townhouse set, the production also features Martin Pakledinaz's colorful costumes to evoke the landscape of Fellini and De Sica. Robin Guarino's staging is full of felicitous touches, such as the ingenious blocking of the lovers' first duet, with the pair standing coolly apart, playing against the ardent lyric. It also transcends such business as Gaudenzio shaving in mid-aria or the lovers lapsing into the twist and the frug to serve Rossini exceedingly well.

Tenor Alek Shrader makes an ardent Florville, deftly mixing Mastroianni cool with solid bel canto technique, and soprano Lisa Hopkins as Sofia proves a deft comedian while singing with impressive flair. As Gaudenzio, Eric Jordan has a sonorous bass that's outstanding. Emily Langford Johnson, Matthew Lau, Steven Goldstein, and Michael Kelly, with a special nod to engaging youngster Ellis Bareuther, complete a flawless cast.

Artistic Director Neal Goren conducts a fizzy performance, as lively as a Broadway musical. Christopher Bergen's supertitles are an asset, even if projected at a neck-straining position atop extreme stage left.