Ever seen a cartoon of Bugs Bunny or Woody Woodpecker posing as a barber, singing along to an orchestra? Ever heard someone belt out, “Figaro! Figaro! Fi-gar-o!” as if you’re supposed to get the joke?
Ever seen a cartoon of Bugs Bunny or Woody Woodpecker posing as a barber, singing along to an orchestra? Ever heard someone belt out, “Figaro! Figaro! Fi-gar-o!” as if you’re supposed to get the joke? They are references to The Barber of Seville, probably the funniest and best-known opera performed today. If you’ve never seen it, the Portland Opera is giving you the opportunity to experience this show at its best.
The Barber of Seville is a two-act opera buffa (comic opera) composed in 1816 by Gioachino Rossini, a prolific opera writer. Barber is his crowd-pleasing classic and to us, the young and average operagoers, the score is both lively and familiar.
Backed by a powerfully talented orchestra (conducted by former New York City Opera music director George Manahan), the cast sings entirely in Italian with English translations projected above the stage. Even without the translations, the plot is easy to follow.
Two men—the doctor Bartolo (Steven Condy) and Count Almaviva (Nicholas Phan)—vie for the hand of the lovely maiden Rosina (Jennifer Rivera). Bartolo is Rosina’s guardian, and in order to win her affections Almaviva must don disguises, befriend her house’s servants and visit her secretly. In the end, of course, he finally gets the girl.
Rivera delivers a standout performance as Rosina, a role she has played for Portland Opera before. In fact, several of the leads in this production are revisiting their Barber roles, contributing immensely to the quality of show. Director Christopher Mattaliano and Manahan are a superb team that keeps the performances onstage and in-pit tightly knit.
Another notable player is baritone Daniel Belcher as Figaro, the barber of Seville. Belcher has a fantastic voice and his direction under Mattaliano is spot-on for comedic relief and intimacy with his audience. His initial entrance is from the back of the auditorium and he passes much of his time on stage winking at the audience and treating his lines as though they were asides, as though he is aware that an audience is present.
The little details are perfect here. Even supporting cast members, such as the chorus of policemen in the second act, are thoroughly integrated into the spectator’s experience. The set design is elaborate, cartoonish and colorful, as are the beautiful costumes. The entire cast and crew are enthusiastic and talented, and it shows.
As to be expected from a night at the Keller, everything is well-planned and well-executed from your entrance until your exit. If you’ve forgotten, the lobby is dazzling and the Keller Café always offers special menus for the performance. In the case of Barber, an Italian opera set in Spain, the menu is Mediterranean-themed.
If you are even considering dressing up for a night on the town this weekend, an inexpensive ticket to a wonderful opera is an opportunity not to be missed.