Again and again, we call on the arts to add a little sparkle to our mundane existence. Although opera has a reputation for being conservative, traditional and only appreciated by a very loyal and exclusive audience, it is an undeserved reputation. Opera singers in the eighteenth century were the rock stars of their day. The patrons who attended Opera Idaho's Saturday evening performance know the truth. The performers were anything but serious--they jested and joked at every opportunity, and the director had laughs aplenty.
Gioacchino Rossini's The Barber of Seville is no doubt an opera buffa. It takes place in Seville, Spain, and begins with Count Almaviva (Ross Hauck) under the balcony of Rosina, serenading her and hoping to win her love. Hauck's lyric tenor voice, although generous and rich, doesn't immediately bring Rosina to her window. When his previous servant, Figaro, appears, the count tells him that he has disguised himself as a student and will give Figaro money in exchange for helping him meet Rosina. Figaro (Robert Gomez) excepts the offer and wins the count's confidence. Gomez also immediately captures the heart of the audience with his charisma and virtuosity drawing a burst of loud bravos.
Once Rosina (Lindsey Falduto) hears the count singing, she immediately falls in love, but she is locked in her room by her jealous guardian, Dr. Bartolo, who announces that they will marry the next day. Falduto's high range of notes are the perfect complement to her character. Dr. Bartolo (Joseph Rawley) is most hilarious when imitating Rosina's flawless mezzo-soprano voice. His strong vocals remain best as a bass, though his soprano is impressive, as is his confident stage presence.
As the opera continues, the count disguises himself as a drunken soldier who has orders to stay at Dr. Bartolo's home. Once inside, he and Figaro plot Rosina's escape, repeatedly avoiding the suspicious doctor.
At times, the cast combined with the chorus appears to be in utter chaos, chasing each other from stage left to stage right and back again, but it is all a part of the sophisticated choreography and adds to the hilarity of the plot. When the absurdity calms, the count reveals his true identity and successfully marries Rosina.
The supporting performers in this production are uniformly excellent as the leads--especially Lura Penland's lovely soprano in the unfortunately small role of Berta.
Because Cesare Sterbini wrote the libretto as a comedy, probably all of the audience members were expecting to laugh. However, they most likely weren't expecting the translation to include modern lingo, equally amusing as the singers' performances. It is risky to translate an opera using modern slang such as, "What's up?" and "red neck," but this is the beauty of the arts--they are up for interpretation. Opera Idaho was tactful in its word choice, and because the translation matched the energy on the stage, the audience roared even louder.
The costume design by Rebecca Hoffman was exquisitely reminiscent of 18th century Spain. Particularly attractive was Rosina's black dress with gold lace trim. Also accurate of the time was the set design; although fairly simple, its tranquility allowed the performers' talent to prevail.
The Barber of Seville is certainly the most readily accessible of the 18th century operas, from its inclusion in commercials and movie soundtracks to Elmer Fudd chasing bugs bunny. As it is familiar and entertaining to novice operagoers, Opera Idaho made sure its continual patrons were surprised as well.