"The Barber of Seville" at Boheme Opera: Cue Famous Music, Hilarity and Happily-Ever-After
OK, let’s get first things out of the way, first. Yes, you likely already know some of the music from “The Barber of Seville” – especially if you are of a certain age, like me, and grew up on “Looney Tunes”– thanks to Bugs Bunny and “The Rabbit of Seville:” https://youtu.be/oGhwdJZU3RQ.
So, now that we’re on the same wavelength here, let me tell you a little more about Barber and the upcoming performances of that work by Boheme Opera.
While it’s often referred to in its original Italian title, “Il barbiere di Siviglia,” in this case we’ll use the English version, because Boheme Opera is presenting this opera entirely in English. Usually, operas are presented in their original language, and audience members know what’s being said on stage by reading projected translations above the stage. But Joseph Pucciatti, the co-founder, artistic director and conductor of Boheme Opera, tells me that he thinks it’s so much easier for audiences to get caught up in the performances when they don’t have to constantly look up from the stage action to read the translations above it.
This performance is also being presented as semi-staged, which is a relatively new development in operatic productions over the last dozen years or so. It’s a cross between a concert performance (with no costumes, little acting and the vocalists often working with music scores and stands) and a regular staged performance. In a semi-staged performance, the orchestra can usually be found onstage (which has the added benefit of bringing the audience closer to the action, since there’s no pit in the way), there are usually props and costumes but no sets involved, and singers are free from music stands and scores and act out their parts fully. Clearly, it’s a way for the opera company to save money on sets and such, but it also strips away some of the theatrical excesses, and allows the audience to connect more closely to the singing and the text.
Despite growing up on the “Rabbit of Seville,” I bet you suspect that the opera is not really about a rascally rabbit shaving and outsmarting the wily hunter Elmer Fudd. So what’s it really about? I’m so glad you asked, dear reader…
Act I: In a public square outside of Bartolo’s house in 18th century Spain, a poor student, Lindoro, is serenading the lovely Rosina. Now, Lindoro is really the young Count Almaviva in disguise, because he wants Rosina to love him for himself, not his wealth or title. Unfortunately, Rosina is the young ward of grumpy old Bartolo, who wants to marry her (and her large dowry) himself, once she is of age.
Figaro comes by (singing his very famous aria “Largo al factotum” – you know, “Figaro, Figaro, FIGARO!” Figaro used to work for the Count, so Almaviva asks him to help him meet Rosina. Figaro suggests that the Count disguise himself as a soldier, ordered to be billeted with Bartolo, so as to gain entrance to Bartolo and Rosina’s house.
Inside the house, Rosina actually has a crush on Lindoro (as she knows him) already, and writes him a note – and here she sings another of the opera world’s most famous songs: “Una voce poco fa.” Figaro warns Rosina of Bartolo’s plans for her and offers to take a note from her to Lindoro. The Count then enters in his drunken soldier disguise and (as often happens in operatic comedies of this era), hilarity ensues.
Act II: Bartolo has gotten rid of the drunken solider, but now opens his doors to the Count again – this time dressed as “Alonso” – a substitute music teach, taking Basilio’s place, who is out sick.
Figaro manages to steal the key to Rosina’s bedroom window. Basilio enters, but is kicked out. Bartolo suddenly figures out the lovers’ plot and kicks out Figaro and the Count, who has promised to come get Rosina at midnight. Bartolo convinces Rosina that “Lindoro” is only trifling with her, so she agrees to marry Bartolo instead.
Later that night, when the Count arrives at her bedroom window, she refuses to go with him, so “Lindoro” reveals his true identity and all is forgiven. Basilio is made to witness the wedding between Rosina and the Count. Bartolo, naturally, objects, but the Count makes him realize that he has lost. Bartolo concedes defeat and blesses the lovers. And, also like many operas in this era, happy ending ensues.
And if these names sound at all familiar, you get a gold star! This story is a prequel to the Mozart opera “The Marriage of Figaro” (“Le nozze di Figaro”). And that’s always struck me as a little funny, given that Mozart wrote his opera decades before Rossini. But the stories of both operas come from comedic plays by the French writer Pierre Beaumarchais, written around 1775. While Rossini was not the first composer to set this play as an opera, his work has certainly lasted the longest on the operatic stage, being one of the most frequently produced works even today.
Boheme Opera presents two performances of Rossini’s “The Barber of Seville.” The first performance is on Sunday, January 29 at 3:00 p.m. at Mildred & Ernest E. Mayo Concert Hall in the Music Building of The College of New Jersey at 2000 Pennington Road in Ewing.
On Saturday, February 4 at 7:00 p.m., the second performance takes place at Cherry Hill West High School at 2101 Chapel Avenue in Cherry Hill. Tickets are $35 (general admission) and $10 (students).
Conducted by Joseph Pucciatti and stage directed by Howard Zogott. With Jose Adan Perez (Figaro), Sungji Kim (Rosina), Thor Arbjornsson (Count Almaviva), Stefanos Koroneos (Dr. Bartolo) and Paul An (Don Basilio).
To learn more about Boheme Opera and its 28th anniversary season, visit bohemeopera.com.