In a town where one of the major political party’s best hopes now lie with the legal fortunes of a porn star, it may well be worth asking whether the operatic chestnut Il barbiere di Siviglia, an adaptation of Beaumarchais’ comic play of life under the Old Regime, is either relevant or merits any reaction other than a cynical shrug. But at least some Washingtonians are sufficiently capable of taking refuge from the twenty-four-hour news cycle and the city’s endemic seriousness to forget their troubles at the theater, as Abraham Lincoln likely thought he was doing during his last night in town.

It is usually the most die-hard of opera fans who deride Rossini’s celebrated comedy. A famous critic once assured me that 98 percent of productions are stale, boring, and unworthy of notice, and for the most part he is correct. Luckily, this Washington National Opera revival rates among the other 2 percent. This was due in no small measure to the luxuriantly cast Isabel Leonard as Rosina. Possessing a smooth, silky instrument, she delivered a piquant trickstress whose tendency toward deception refreshingly outweighed the saccharine sweetness we so often see in the role. In the bravura aria “Una voce poco fa,” she unrolled gorgeous coloratura while stabbing her sewing needle through her cross stich to dramatize every imagined slight to her self-described viperous nature. It was easy to foresee her future, following in the Beaumarchais trilogy’s next installment in its Mozartean permutation, as a plaintive spouse adept at scheming her way into winning the moral high ground over her wayward husband. Nor is this Rosina above the cynical self-interest that would suit a K Street lobbying firm: when she finally realizes her suitor’s true identity as Count Almaviva, she is less impressed with his title than she is with the bulge visible in his very aristocratic tights.

Leonard’s Rosina was well wooed by the dynamic young tenor Taylor Stanton, whose lightness of tone recalled the old recording Alfredo Kraus made opposite Maria Callas. Andrey Zhilikhovsky, a Russian baritone who hails from Moldova, facilitated their courtship with a dynamic energy that will soon be enjoyed by publics in major houses all over the world. Paolo Bordogna was a suitably narcissistic Bartolo, Rossina’s lecherous guardian. Wei Wu’s clarion bass resounded with broad, clear notes in the part of the corruptible music-teaching bystander Don Basilio. Alexandria Shiner did well in the maid Berta’s often-overlooked aria.

Peter Kazaras’s production looked a bit cartoonish in its representation of Seville, but its subdued, storybook quality allowed this energized cast to emerge in full relief. As was the case in last season’s Marriage of Figaro, Kazaras’s stage direction tried to avoid all the usual cliches and yielded some pleasant surprises. During the hilarious Act II shaving scene, Rosina cleverly deploys her fan and skirted dress to conceal Almaviva, who has arrived disguised as Basilio to continue his courtship. When the real Basilio nevertheless sees Almaviva dressed in matching clothes, the two briefly reenact Groucho Marx’s encounter with a similar double in the famous mirror scene in Duck Soup. The finale, which unites Rosina and Almaviva at last, is staged as a flamenco for the entire cast, including the soldiers Bartolo had brought to arrest the other principals. The evening’s only drawback was Emily Senturia’s pedestrian conducting, which left us with the uneasy reminder that the WNO’s orchestra is at best a work in progress.

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