The Barber of Seville

Music by Gioachino Rossini; Libretto by Cesare Sterbini
Seattle Opera
McCaw Hall

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Deanne Meek as Berta Credit: Philip Newton
Marc Kenison/Waxie Moon as Ambrogio Credit: Sunny Martini
Michael J. Hawk as Fiorello (centre) Credit: David Jaewon Oh
Duke Kim (lower left) as Count Almaviva and Megan Moore (upper right) as Rosina Credit: Philip Newton
Duke Kim as Count Almaviva Credit: Sunny Martini
Megan Moore as Rosina Credit: Sunny Martini
Megan Moore as Rosina Credit: Sunny Martini
May 4 cast, clockwise from upper left- Marc Kenison / Waxie Moon as Ambrogio, Duke Kim as Count Almaviva, and Kevin Burdette as Doctor Bartolo Credit: Sunny Martini
From left- Duke Kim as Count Almaviva and Sean Michael Plumb as Figaro Credit: Sunny Martini
From left- William Guanbo Su as Don Basilio and Kevin Burdette as Doctor Bartolo Credit: Philip Newton
Members of the Seattle Opera Chorus Credit: Philip Newton
The May 4 cast, from left: William Guanbo Su as Don Basilio, Kevin Burdette as Doctor Bartolo, Marc Kenison/Waxie Moon as Ambrogio, Deanne Meek as Berta, Sean Michael Plumb as Figaro, Duke Kim as Count Almaviva, and Megan Moore as Rosina Credit: Sunny Martini
The May 4 cast Credit: David Jaewon Oh
The May 4 cast Credit: Philip Newton
The May 4 cast Credit: Sunny Martini
Valentina Peleggi conducts the Seattle Symphony Credit: Sunny Martini

The Seattle Opera has done it again, in their wonderful and fun new production of The Barber of Seville (one of Rossini’s greatest comic works). Co-produced by Opera Queensland, Seattle Opera, and New Zealand Opera, all I really need to say about it is “WOW!”

It was magic from the start, from the opening bars of the overture, as Tracy Grant Lord’s stage picture, a proscenium arch made of paintings from its setting of Seville, lit up as the overture first crept, then roared into McCaw’s house. The presence of the overture marks this as a presentational piece—we know we’re entering an imaginary world and the director, Lindy Hume, pushed characterization to its furthest edges, especially in the comic roles of Bartolo and Basilio and Alamaviva’s two alter egos (Lindoro and Don Alonso); we in the audience particularly enjoyed Kim’s parody of the music teacher Alonso, who surely was based on someone Rossini or librettist Sterbini knew, and with Daniel Pelzig’s choreography, so over the top.

People who know their Rossini speak (correctly) of the Rossini crescendo as found in his Cenerentola (“Cinderella”), in which the act 1 conclusion is a quick race to this finish as the cast asks the audience, “what do we do NOW?” But this Rossini opera is primarily based on another kind of crescendo, not one of pace but of volume: it starts slow and quiet and just keeps on building till its end, with the occasional slowing down for some reflection by its characters. The Cinderella folks have to hurry: they don’t know how to get themselves out of the various and sundry messes they’re in. The folks here have Figaro and Rosina to scheme, both together and separately (Rosina finds Figaro useful but a bit cheeky and acting above his station, so he needs a bit of payback too, enough to remind him who’s really in charge).

It's as if the entire opera was approaching from far away and getting closer and closer. From the very first moment under Valentina Peleggi’s direction in her Seattle Opera debut, she marks every note, every interval. In a lot of productions of Figaro, you think about the big numbers. Those happen here as well, of course, but because of the careful shading and attention paid to every note in Megan Moore’s Rosina (here back to the original mezzo-soprano), Duke Kim’s Almaviva and every other character, similar attention was paid to the text. Too many times, in patter work especially, the notes and words can get a bit mushy, but this much attention paid to both made me remember that this opera was meant for hearing as a first run experience, the equivalent of a new musical. That is, the opera was not known by the audience and therefore they had to hear the text and the musical reality behind the text.

This almost made me wish for a return to the old days in which operas were performed in the language of the audience, not necessarily the original language of the composer and librettist. (I say almost: without a very careful translation, by someone who is a singer and / or conductor, things can go horribly wrong with English vowels, say, in an Italian work.) It was all so very precise, with Jonathan’s Dean’s captions a bit freer and very pointed, getting big laughs from the audience in their own right.

And the voices were all lovely, including, once again, the chorus. Kim’s Almaviva was particularly thrilling to listen to (and watch!), as was Moore’s rich mezzo. And Sean Michael Plumb’s Figaro was both great comic work as well as beautifully sung. My only regret with Deanne Berke’s Berta is that Sterbini gives her so little time on stage, but she certainly made the most of her transition from meek maid to buxom beauty.

All in all, very wonderful. And since it was so wonderful and therefore a real opportunity to introduce opera to new audiences, I would like to note that Seattle Opera has helped to make opera more culturally accessible with these offerings:

  • Friday, May 10, is [a] Pay What You Wish performance. Pay What You Wish tickets will be available day-of online or in person at the Opera Center starting at 2:30 PM on Friday, May 10, and in person at the McCaw Hall Box Office starting at 6:00 PM.The suggested price is $35 with a minimum of $15 per ticket.
  • Sunday, May 12, is Family Day. Students ages 18 and under pay only $20 for almost any seat and can enjoy special student-oriented activities before the performance.
  • Friday, May 17, is [the] Relaxed Performance. Perfect for first-time opera-goers, those looking for a more casual experience, students and youth who are curious about opera, and individuals with sensitivity concerns or disabilities, our Relaxed Performance features several adaptations to the audience experience to make it more accessible. The opera performance itself will have no changes.
  • Sunday, May 19, is Korean Day. At this performance, Seattle artist Yeonji Lee will host a pre-show talk in Korean. After the performance, she’ll host a post-show Q&A, also in Korean, with The Barber of Seville cast member Duke Kim and chorus member YeonSoo Lee.

I normally would never post items directly from a press release, but it’s vital for the life of opera in our futures that we develop new audiences, especially for the older works, which can be a bit daunting. For you, if you’re not an older white person like me, I would love to see you go. We all had a great time watching what was a revolutionary work in its day. It still works, even in a very different social setting and time. Don’t miss this!

Reviewer’s Note: Just for clarification, there are two casts for this work. I have only reviewed the 4 May performance.

Reviewer: Keith Dorwick

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