Figaro, figaro, figaro! 'Il Barbiere di Siviglia' opens IU Opera Theater season
*Note: For more about the Jacobs School of Music 2010-2011 season, see: http://www.music.indiana.edu/opera/ and http://info.music.indiana.edu/web/page/normal/15446.html.
Opera's favorite chaos creator is back -- and nearly two centuries later, Figaro, that plucky barber from Seville, is still brewing up romantic schemes.
Indiana University Opera Theater's 2010-11 season opens with Gioachino Rossini's 18th-century comedic opera Il Barbiere di Siviglia (The Barber of Seville), showcasing an entirely new look, with 21st-century style references and set pieces and costumes that create a classic-meets-contemporary aesthetic.
This fresh production of Il Barbiere di Siviglia will debut at IU's Musical Arts Center on Sept. 24.
"What we're trying for is basing it in a classical period, but approaching it with a contemporary aesthetic," said guest stage director Nicholas Muni, a distinguished artist in residence at the University of Cincinnati.
The opera will feature new sets and costume designs, as conceptualized by C. David Higgins, chair of the IU Department of Opera Studies. Professor of Music Arthur Fagen, acting chair of the Jacobs School's Orchestral Conducting program, will serve as the conductor.
The Jacobs production of Barber -- a story of love and class struggle in 1820s Seville -- adds depth to the opera's inherent humor, Higgins said.
"Nic (Muni) may be too modest to say it, but this production is actually a pretty in-depth analysis of the literature," Higgins said. "The audience is going to be able to relate to the character development and the interrelationships of the characters not only on a comic level but on several levels of understanding -- which I think is the mark of good theater."
The action unfolds within three sets. The interior of the miser Bartolo's home is crafted of beautiful marble, said Muni, but it is old fashioned, stuffy and austere. Bartolo is the beautiful Rosina's guardian and captor, and tries in vain to keep other men away from her. The barber Figaro, also an apothecary, veterinarian and physician, seeks to help Count Almaviva win Rosina's heart.
"When Rosina is complaining, she says, 'How am I supposed to live in this sepultura' (tomb)?" Muni said. "Contrasting Bartolo's sort of maniacal control with Figaro, who's like an agent of chaos in this production, we see the interior of Figaro's shop -- and he has everything in it but the kitchen sink."
Higgins said the third set environment, an external view of Seville, suggests a rich, sooty, earthy place with a sense of both grandeur and decay.
"We've tried to create environments that are pretty literal," Higgins said. "The exterior's slight sense of decay allows us to contrast completely with the interior of Bartolo's world, which is well ordered, pristine. While Bartolo's and Figaro's interiors are a reflection of their personalities, the exterior is a reflection of the world in which all of the story is taking place."
Some of the production's style references -- Donald Trump's coif, a Johnny Depp-as-pirate costume -- are subtle nods to contemporary culture woven into a classic story, Higgins said.
"One thing that stuck early on -- don't take this literally, but it's kind of like if Tim Burton were directing. There's an eccentricity of character we're exploring," Muni added. "For example, Bartolo has a secret laboratory in his house. So what appears to be very austere has this underbelly."
The secret lab is also a reflection of the scientific explorations of the time, when researchers were making new discoveries about animal magnetism and electricity. "We're alluding to these things in this production, so that we get something that's fun but not caricatured," Muni said.
The sets and costumes are a study in contrast. Just as today's Baby Boomers and Generation Y-ers struggle to relate to one another, there's a generational separation between the younger generation of characters, Figaro and Rosina, and the older generation, Bartolo and Almaviva, who are "stuck in the 1780s," Muni said.
While Figaro is a modern-day fashionista, Bartolo is more old fashioned. Figaro becomes involved in the rescue of Rosina partly because of his belief in personal freedom and liberty, said Muni.
Rossini recycled the Barber overture from one of his more serious works. "He just stole his own overture, and plugged it into Barber of Seville at the last second," Muni said. "That's the musical style Rossini was developing at the time. He was using the exact same musical language in both his comic and serious works, mixing tonalities in a very sophisticated way."
Higgins said doing a standard repertory piece like Barber comes with "problems and delights" that include trying to resonate with an ever-moving target -- the contemporary audience.
"What we were doing 25 years ago with that set and that interpretation was for a very different audience than we're trying to address now," Higgins said.
That, Higgins added, is what live theater is all about. "If there was one way to do this, then we wouldn't re-design the set or come up with new interpretations. It's a matter of exploring the literature and the historical context and finding things that resonate to us today -- and that's why people should go to live theater."
If you go
Cesare Sterbini's libretto for Il Barbiere di Siviglia was based upon the 1775 musical play Le Barbier de Seville by Pierre Beaumarchais. The Jacobs School of Music production will take place Sept. 24, 25 and Oct. 1, 2 at 8 p.m. at the Musical Arts Center, 101 N. Jordan Avenue, and will be sung in Italian with English supertitles.Purchase tickets at the Musical Arts Center box office Monday-Friday, 11:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m. or phone 812-855-7433. To order tickets through Ticketmaster, phone 1-800-745-3000, or purchase online at http://www.ticketmaster.com/venue/41149/.
This story was originally published Sept. 9, 2010.