Boston Lyric Opera's production of The Barber of Seville looks, sounds and feels like a storybook come to life. Wildly improbable and completely over the top, the story recounts the antics of Count Almaviva and his quest to win the love of Rosina, freeing her from her vile guardian in the process. If not for Rossini's delicious score, The Barber of Seville would be the operatic equivalent of a basket of brightly-colored rubber balls dropped from the flyspace. Instead, it is a ridiculous romp that's as musically gratifying as it is just plain fun.

Jonathan Beyer as Figaro, Sarah Coburn as Rosina, and Steven Condy as Dr. Bartolo in Boston Lyric Op © Eric Antoniou for Boston Lyric Opera, 2012
Jonathan Beyer as Figaro, Sarah Coburn as Rosina, and Steven Condy as Dr. Bartolo in Boston Lyric Op
© Eric Antoniou for Boston Lyric Opera, 2012

Count Almaviva pretends to be a poor student as he courts Rosina, layering on more disguises to gain entry into the home of the deeply suspicious Dr. Bartolo (Rosina's guardian). The riotous cast routinely wakes the neighborhood – beginning with a cacophonous early morning serenade, followed by several household-wide brawls. The plot is further peppered with love notes placed into the wrong hands, quasi-secret trysts, bribery, and of course the barber Figaro's wild schemes.

Rosina is a force of nature and not to be trifled with. Dr. Bartolo has no idea what he's in for, or what he's up against. Singing the role of Rosina was Sarah Coburn – and what a treat she was to hear. The trouble with a well-loved classic like Barber is that one is likely to have seen some excellent productions along the way (Joyce DiDonato's Rosina comes to mind). Coburn more than did justice to the role with her rich ornamentation and fiery acting. The role of Figaro is new for baritone Jonathan Beyer, but he has the comedic timing and presence to carry it well. As he settles into his own nuanced version of the notorious barber, Beyer will be one to watch. John Tessier's Count Almaviva grew on me, thanks again to fine character-acting and comedic timing. All three leads have stunning voices. I'll be watching for them on future programs at this and other opera houses.

One of the best things about seeing an opera performed live is listening to the reactions of the audience. They laugh, gasp, and make reflexive comments as the characters draw them in. The Barber of Seville is an especially good example of this, and the Boston audience simply could not keep quiet. They were having too much fun. Everyone in this opera, in fact, seems to have fun. The Boston Lyric Opera Orchestra (who gave Sarah Coburn an appreciative shuffle after her opening aria) has rarely sounded better. The pianist worked little jokes into the ornamentation. The singers owned their roles and thrived on the response. Steven Condy (Dr. Bartolo) was especially marvelous in his hilarious role of muddled yet overbearing guardian.

The set (designed by Allen Moyer) is reminiscent of illustrations from well-loved children's books – perfect for an opera driven by a delightfully improbable storyline. The combination of musicality and comic plot makes this piece a splendid introduction for anyone new to opera. It's equally fun the third, fourth, or fortieth time around, since it's always slightly different. Music Director David Angus took the flourishes to just the right level.

An usher expressed concern for patrons caught in unusually bad traffic on their way to the theater. Figaro's famous aria comes within minutes of the overture, and he didn't want anyone to miss it. The truth of the matter is, one wouldn't want to miss a single minute, from beginning to end.