Will love conquer all — or does the bad guy win — in ‘Barber of Seville’?
Opera lovers, take note: If you’ve been trying to introduce friends and loved ones to opera, this is your chance. The next production in the 2018-2019 season of Michigan Opera Theatre is a classic opera perfect for newcomers, The Barber of Seville, and they probably already know the music.
With its trademark “Figaro, Figaro!” aria, the music has been featured in numerous commercials, movies and television shows, including the iconic Looney Tunes cartoon of Bugs Bunny in The Rabbit of Seville.
“It’s a great first opera — it’s very entertaining,” said director Christopher Mattaliano of this sexy, romantic production. “There’s one great melody after another; it’s considered one of the great masterpieces in operatic literature.”
This quintessential opera buffa (Italian for “comic opera”) is captivating and full of high energy. More than 200 years after its debut in Rome, Gioachino Rossini’s The Barber of Seville remains popular. Part of that may be attributed to the irresistible and timeless theme of love conquering all.
“It’s a story of true love that triumphs over adversity,” said Mattaliano. “Essentially it’s a comedy based on good guys outwitting the bad guys.”
This specific production is even more heartwarming, since the main couple on stage is played by a real-life husband and wife. Tenor Alek Shrader portrays Count Almaviva opposite mezzo-soprano Daniela Mack as Rosina. Their love story literally began as a fairytale, with the two portraying the roles of Cinderella and Prince Charming in another Rossini opera, La Cenerentola. They have continued to bring their off-stage chemistry to their on-stage roles as a couple ever since.
They are joined by their close friend, Grammy Award-winning baritone Lucas Meachem, performing his signature role Figaro, which he has performed 57 times. Andrew Shore, the much-admired and versatile English baritone, plays the antagonist Dr. Bartolo.
While Figaro’s aria is arguably the opera’s best-known piece, audience-goers will also recognize much of the other music, which has also been featured heavily in popular culture.
“All of the main characters have at least one major showcase aria,” said Mattaliano. “It’s a great showcase for the singers vocally and dramatically. This is considered the greatest comic opera ever composed — it’s a pure ‘comedy of manners.’ It’s hard to imagine anyone saying there’s a greater opera buffa than The Barber of Seville.”
The Barber of Seville is the prequel to The Marriage of Figaro, another opera buffa that is known as one of Mozart’s best works. The two Figaro operas are among the most performed in the world. They are both based on French playwright Pierre Beaumarchais’ comedic plays. (There’s a third in the trio, The Guilty Mother, that is not as popular.)
This production of The Barber of Seville is boisterous and colorful, and it aims to reflect the energy of the music, said Mattaliano, who created this production in the mid 1990s during his time as a stage director for the Minnesota Opera. Whereas most productions are set in the late 1700s, this one is set during Rossini’s time and the “golden century of Italian opera.” (Mattaliano cited a book of the same name as his visual inspiration.)
“The feeling is very nostalgic and affectionate for that period of time,” he said. “It’s a celebration of that time of Italian opera. It captures the energy, exuberance and absurdity of the story in a musical way, as opposed to slapstick way.”
Opera buffs may notice that Mattaliano pays homage to Rossini, whose portrait hangs over the set. “There’s a theater within a theater,” he said, adding that the setting is actually a 19th century proscenium.
Set in Seville, Spain, in the early 19th century, the opera opens with Count Almaviva, posing as a student named “Lindoro,” serenading Rosina outside her window. Rosina is moved by his voice, but she’s the ward of Dr. Bartolo, who plans to marry her himself — for her dowry. Undeterred, Count Almaviva enlists the help of the clever Figaro, Seville’s resident jack of all trades (and barber).
Through a series of disguises and plots devised with Figaro’s help, Count Almaviva reveals his true identity to Rosina, risks arrest and grows closer to his love. Dr. Bartolo has plans of his own — to marry Rosina before Almaviva can. Will true love prevail or will the not-so-good doctor have Rosina as his own?
About the Production:
The Barber of Seville (Il barbiere di Siviglia) is an opera in two acts, with music by Gioachino Rossini and libretto by Cesare Sterbini. Based on Pierre Beaumarchais’ French comedy, it debuted in Rome in 1816.
Directed by Christopher Mattaliano, with sets designed by Allen Moyer.
Sung in Italian, with English supertitle translations.
Running time: About 2 1/2 hours
If you go:
The Barber of Seville opens on Saturday, November 10, at 7:30 p.m., with additional shows Wednesday, November 14, and Friday, November 16, both at 7:30 p.m., and Sunday, November 18, at 2:30 p.m. All shows are at the Detroit Opera House. Single tickets are on sale now, and they can be purchased online, by calling 313-237-7464 or in person at the Detroit Opera House. Complete season information is also available.