he silent flicks lost a great star when Beverly Sills was born 50 years didn't exactly steal the show at the Kennedy Center Wednesday night. The New York City Opera's production of Rossini's "Barber of Seville" is too well-balanced and too exciting a production for anyone to do that, but she stole a few scenes, notably the one where Dr. Bartolo is giving her hell. She stole it from Donald Gramm in silence by twiddling her thumbs, and Gramm is no slouch himself.
The benefit performance was attended by President and Mrs. Carter, who received a standing ovation when they entered the hall.
This is a loveable, sunny, exuberant production, a virtuoso show both technically and artistically.
It is full of stars, headed by Sills as Rosina and by Sarah Caldwell who conducted the music and directed the production. And what a production it is! Characters romp through the aisles and run through the orchestra pit. Figaro makes his first entrance from the side of the hall, strewing ads as he comes, ads that proclaim "Liberate, Equalite, Fraternite, FI-GARO" in red, white and blue.
The set revolves in tempo and in intricate patterns, from a courtyard to a birdcage-like two-story interior complete with seing that is a riot of wrought iron. The whole thing resembles an over-ornate Punch cartoon.
Sills and Gramm just set the pace for a marvelous cast that included Richard Fredericks as Figaro, Henry Price as Almaviva, Robert Hale as Don Basilo and a brilliant mime, Nicholas Muni, as the decrepit Ambrogio.
Musically also things were in fine hands. Sills speaks in florid coluratura as if this were her natural mode of discourse. Gramm seems to get better every year, and Price, while no marvel of vocal agility, has a pleasiny way with a musical phrase.
Caldwell's showmanship, of course, is as powerful on the podium as it is from the director's seat.