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To trim away those winter blues, OperaDelaware is romping back onstage with The Barber of Seville. Based on a 1775 French comedy by Beaumarchais, Gioachino Rossini’s comic gem premiered in Rome in 1816 and hasn’t left the boards since.
Figaro! Figaro! Figaro!
This great opera buffo (originally subtitled The Useless Precaution) revolves around the enterprising Figaro, a barber and a man about town determined to help lovelorn Count Almaviva (in disguise, of course) marry Rosina, the woman of his dreams. But as her villainous, lecherous guardian Dr. Bartolo wants to snare the lovely lady for himself, an intricate comedy unspools.
Opera is not always associated with laugh-out-loud hijinks, but this one has been convulsing audiences with laughter ever since its premiere. The Barber’s longevity and popularity are also due to high-flying, virtuosic vocals and the deft way Rossini’s sparkling music conveys the comedy. Some tunes are surprisingly familiar, lifted over the years to enliven soundtracks including Tom and Jerry, Looney Tunes, and Mel Blanc’s classic 1950 cartoon Rabbit of Seville.
Maestro Anthony Barrese (OperaDelaware’s music director) is mounting a largely uncut version that “flies comically by.” Barrese is well-known for innovative approaches, including his 2016 production of the company’s Amleto which won national acclaim. "This is just a perfect opera!” he says. “For a first-time opera-goer, it has tunes which are recognizable even if you’ve never heard an opera before. And there is an element of flexibility in our staging, musicianship, and artistry, all of which we are really encouraging on a creative level with the artists." It’s also the work that sparked his passion for the genre.
Looks good on paper
The high-flying music is filled with virtuosic challenges, and Barrese’s interpretation encourages vocal improvisation, normal during Rossini’s day. The irrepressible barber is one of the great baritone roles, here sung by Brian James Myer, new to the company but no stranger to Figaro, which he’s performed to rave reviews. Other OperaDelaware debuts include mezzo-soprano Mary Beth Nelson (formerly with Glimmerglass Opera) as Rosina and tenor Christopher Bozeka as Count Almaviva. Returning singers include baritone Tim Mix (Dr. Bartolo), who galvanized audiences in the company’s 2019 Dead Man Walking; bass-baritone Kevin Short (Basilio), a Metropolitan Opera regular; and Wilmington soprano Julia Laird (Berta).
Performed in Italian, the work has easy-to-follow projected supertitles. Costumes and sets were designed by Brooklyn’s Papermoon Opera Productions—yes, mostly of paper! The company has won plaudits worldwide for its innovative, joyous, and environmentally friendly work. Fenlon Lamb, Papermoon’s artistic director, notes that paper “is an interesting medium, especially for something as joyful as The Barber of Seville. It gives us this childlike ability to play,” a sentiment embraced by the entire company.
There are eight “Rossini Minutes” (hosted by Barrese) and four “Operasodes” (hosted by Steven Condy) on YouTube about this Barber, a co-production with Baltimore Concert Opera. The partnership is a boon for both audiences and the singers, expanding work for artists emerging fiscally from the pandemic.
Mounting an opera is always intricate, but the production had some special challenges. General director Brendan Cooke notes that “navigating Covid testing and relying on live-video feeds for rehearsals when we have a positive test has caused us to focus on how this kind of technology can aid us in a new era.”
It’s a new era in another way. The company was just awarded a 2022 OPERA America Repertoire Development Grant to support Derrick Wang’s Fearless, inspired by Hazel Ying Lee, the first American woman of Asian descent to fly for the US military in World War II.
But this week, The Barber’s comedy and melody will, as Cooke says, “have you come away laughing, as people have been doing for 200 years.”
What, When, Where
The Barber of Seville. By Giancarlo Rossini, directed by Octavio Cardenas and conducted by Anthony Barrese. $29-$99. February 25 and 27, 2022, at Grand Opera House, Copeland Hall, 818 N. Market Street, Wilmington, Delaware. (302) 442-7807 or operade.org.
Entry to the Grand requires ID and proof of vaccination, and masks are required to be worn inside.
Copeland Hall is wheelchair accessible, and OperaDelaware provides supertitles during the performance.
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