If you’re new to opera The Barber is as good as it gets for a gateway. Just ask Opera Lyra’s artistic director Timothy Vernon who says “It’s a feel good opera, it’s a fun story, nobody dies and everybody laughs.” Not to mention the gorgeous melodies that are probably familiar even if you don’t know it yet. If you ever saw the Bugs Bunny cartoon where he gives Elmer Fudd a shave, the overture is seared into your memory for good.
Bugs Bunny aside there’s something mysterious about just how memorable the melodies are in this opera. Asked what makes the opera great tenor Isaiah Bell (Count Almaviva) says “Right from the beginning, the very first theme you hear is this sparkling theme that’s so simple and it’s almost like you always knew this theme but you’ve never heard it before, like this sort of inevitability to it. And the whole opera’s like that, every tune that you hear is this timeless, inevitable tune.”
In this production Opera Lyra has taken The Barber, originally set in the 17th century into a 1940s movie studio. There’s lots of silly twists and turns though the basic story is this: Rosina is a young starlet starring as Carmen in Carmen (the opera within an opera is another fun twist in this version). Bartolo is the producer and studio owner who made her a star and keeps a careful eye on her every move. Oh, and he’s planning to marry her without her knowing to get his hands on her dowry.
Everything gets going when the handsome and charming Count Almaviva arrives in Seville. It’s not long before he’s falling for Rosina and she’s fallen for him too. Then there’s Figaro the stylist and best friend to Rosina who helps the two lovers get together. Describing his character, baritone Joshua Hopkings says, “Figaro is the guy who makes everything happen within Seville but also in this movie studio itself. He’s always plotting, he’s always planning, he’s always four steps ahead of everyone else.”
Enjoy this audio clip of a duet between Figaro and Rosina:
Artistic director Timothy Vernon explains that this resetting of the Barber began as a piece of theatre in Calgary and the director of the company realized that with a few changes it could become the décor for Barber of Seville. It has only been staged once before in Vancouver, what Vernon jokingly refers to as the dress rehearsal for Ottawa. Have a look a the preview:
From what I saw at the sneak preview it’s going to be a really great run, though don’t just take it from me. Here are 3 reasons why this opera is a must-see in the words of the cast and crew.
“Rossini wrote some of his most inspired melodies and that’s saying something because he was a nonstop melodist and so the score just brims with fantastic tunes”
~ Artistic director Timothy Vernon
“There’s so many great themes in here and every time you hear a new theme you think oh yeah, this one’s my favourite”
~ Tenor Isaiah Bell (Count Almaviva)
“What makes this opera great is just the sparkling dialogue. There’s many comedic situations that I think in a regular play they would just seem a bit pat but in this, the music just heightens it and it heightens the expectation of the comic payoff.”
~ Baritone Peter McGillivray (Bartolo)
“There’s such great dramatic situations. It’s almost like a sitcom in a way in the sense that the situations make the comedy. You don’t have to mug you just have to interpret what’s there and then it’s hilarious.”
~ Tenor Isaiah Bell (Count Almaviva)
“It is a really neat thing to be in the same space where singers are making that kind of sound. And for anybody coming for the first time they’ll feel it. It’s just a really different experience to have from watching Netflix or whatever that we do in our spare time. There’s no amplification, it’s just a real sound. And this is an amazing place to come and hear it at the NAC.”
~ Soprano Marion Newman (Rosina)
“This is all live singing and live orchestra playing form the stage and from the pit so no one is enhanced by any microphones. For us the challenge is to fill the Southam hall with basically millimetres of flesh inside the throat. It’s really amazing when you think about it.”
~ Baritone Joshua Hopkins (Figaro)
Apt613 has two pairs of tickets to give away for the performance on Monday, September 28. To enter, leave a comment below telling us about your best (or worst) hair cutting experience. The winners will be chosen by random draw at noon on Friday, September 25, 2015.