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Believing in 'The Barber'

The baritone who is singing Figaro and the folks at the Palladium Theater have a lot to be excited about as the opera arrives in St. Petersburg.

Published June 1, 2006

[Times photo: Bob Croslin]
Valerie Nicolosi is Rosina and Bryce Westervelt is Count Almaviva in The Barber of Seville.

ST. PETERSBURG - For its production of The Barber of Seville, the Palladium Theater has a truly devoted Figaro in Jon Truitt. The baritone is such a fan of the resourceful valet in Rossini's opera that he named his dog Figaro.

Truitt is singing Figaro for the third time. In the past, he has played two other principal characters in the opera, Bartolo and Basilio. He is also directing the production for the Palladium.

During a rehearsal last week of the first act's finale, Truitt observed the rest of the cast from a seat out in the theater, taking an occasional note. Then, making Figaro's entrance, he began singing from his seat before bouncing onstage to join the scene.

"This is the first time I have sung and directed at the same time,'' he said. "At least I know the parts well.''

The Barber of Seville is the second fully staged opera at the Palladium. A year ago Madame Butterfly sold out two performances in the 850-seat theater.

"We're hoping that opera becomes a tradition here,'' said Dar Webb, interim executive director of the Palladium. "It's our biggest production of the year. Advance sales have been strong, and we're on track to sell out again.''

Webb estimated the cost of the production at $38,000, which she called a "major investment'' for the community-oriented theater. Opera at the Palladium was started by the former executive director, Mark Spano, who left the job over management disagreements with the board of directors last fall.

There have been some changes from last year's production. Sunstate Opera, which provided the singers in Madame Butterfly and was responsible for the staging, is no longer involved. Instead, the singers were mainly drawn from auditions held in January, and the cast is more experienced.

For example, mezzo-soprano Valerie Nicolosi, singing Rosina, has appeared in principal roles with Opera Providence, Abilene Opera, Knoxville Opera and Dayton Opera. Truitt is assistant professor of voice, chorus and opera at the University of Evansville in Indiana.

Rossini dashed off The Barber of Seville in just two weeks. Premiered in 1816, it was based on the first of three revolutionary comedies by the 18th century French playwright Beaumarchais. His second comedy had earlier inspired Mozart's opera The Marriage of Figaro.

The Rossini vocal style is a challenge. Compared to that of Verdi or Puccini, it is much quicker and puts a premium on articulation in rapid-fire patter numbers. "It's more florid, more virtuosic, more pyrotechnic,'' Truitt said.

"The score calls for a lighter approach to singing,'' said Mark Sforzini, the artistic director of the opera. "Sometimes you have three singers singing 16th notes all at the same time.''

Amid the largely male cast, Rosina can be a dazzling star turn. Often, the part is sung by a soprano in a higher key, but Rossini wrote it for a mezzo-soprano, such as Nicolosi.

"I think a mezzo in the role blends much better in the ensemble numbers,'' Sforzini said.

Sforzini and Truitt met last summer while doing The Barber of Seville at the Crested Butte Music Festival in Colorado. Sforzini played bassoon in the orchestra and Truitt sang Figaro.

At the Palladium, Sforzini will conduct the Florimezzo Orchestra, made up of members of the Florida Orchestra (in which Sforzini is principal bassoon) along with teachers and other musicians from the community.

The opera is performed in Italian, with an English translation projected on screens flanking the stage.

The Palladium, a converted church, has some limitations for opera. It lacks a backstage, wing space and orchestra pit.

For last year's production, the orchestra took up one side of the stage, an arrangement that proved awkward. This time around, the orchestra, with about 35 players, will be positioned at the rear of the stage and behind a scrim. It's still far from ideal, since singers can't see Sforzini conduct except on video monitors hung on the front of the balcony.

"Being in a pit would be desirable, of course, but we work with what we've got,'' Sforzini said. "In terms of coordinating everything, I think it'll be fine.''

John Fleming can be reached at or (727) 893-8716.


The Barber of Seville is staged at 7:30 p.m. Friday and 2 p.m. Sunday at the Palladium Theater, 253 Fifth Ave. N, St. Petersburg. $10-$50. 727 822-3590; mypalladium. org.

[Last modified May 31, 2006, 15:40:54]

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