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BWW Reviews: Opera Theatre of St. Louis' Unique and Amusing Take on THE BARBER OF SEVILLE

I think I bring this up every time I write about an opera, but it's just so funny to me that most of my early exposure to the medium came through films that I saw on TV when I was kid. Whether it was an Our Gang short (the one where Alfalfa wants to give up crooning to become an opera singer), a Bugs Bunny cartoon (Carl Stallings frequently drew from famous classical works), or even something from Tom and Jerry, I was privy to melodies that would eventually work their way into my musical subconscious. That's just one of the reasons I found the Opera Theatre of St. Louis' production of The Barber of Seville so familiar and engaging. Add to that the fact that the brilliant, sexy, funny, and colorful films of Pedro Almodovar provided the inspiration for the look and feel of this particular presentation, and you have a match made in heaven. You should make it a point to catch all of the Opera Theatre's productions, because they're always innovative, and I especially recommend the wacky comic delights of composer Giochino Rossini's The Barber of Seville.

Count Almaviva is desperately in love with Rosina, but her ward, Doctor Bartolo, has his own designs on marrying the lass. The Count has been visiting her in various disguises because he wants her to love him for himself, and not for the riches he possesses. He enlists the aid of the barber Figaro, who comes up with a plan to outwit Bartolo. Confusion reigns, along with healthy doses of humor, before a thoroughly satisfying conclusion brings the pair together. At least, that's how it was originally written. Here it's been updated to what appears to be the 1960's, and the characterizations have been tweaked considerably. In fact, if you've seen the original version of the opera, you may find yourself perplexed by all the changes that take place in Kelley Rourke's unique adaptation. But, rest assured, it's still a lot of fun, and retains the score (even though some of that has even been re-imagined to a degree) that has captivated audiences for the past couple of centuries.

Jonathan Beyer does splendid work as Figaro, and even though the part no longer drives the plot as it once did, he's still an integral piece of the action. Beyer's sweet baritone is given a good showcase, even if the role is diminished in importance. Christopher Tiesi also contributes nicely as Count Almaviva, although his tenor voice isn't always on point. Emily Fons impresses as Rosina, here more empowered than in any other version to date. Her mezzo soprano soars gorgeously, and her alluring presence is always welcome. Jeongcheol Cha displays a hearty tone that brings his Don Basilio more to the forefront than in previous incarnations. The real star here, though, is Dale Travis as Bartolo, who's now an eye doctor with some sort of peculiar rooster fetish (I'm not kidding!). Travis is given the opportunity to steal the show, and he definitely takes advantage of the situation. Eliza Johnson is a riot as Berta, and the rest of the supporting cast and chorus do a fine job in this often bizarre version of the story.

Michael Shell's direction wrings every possible laugh out of the new libretto, and though it's often wildly over the top, it does create a very convivial atmosphere. Conductor Ryan McAdams admirably puts the orchestra through their paces, and Sean Curran adds some lively choreography to the mix. Shoko Kambara's garish scenic design is in keeping with the updated period, but it almost falls into self parody at times. Amanda Seymour's costumes are all over the map, but often colorful and eye-catching, even if Figaro seems to be dressed more like a magician than a barber. Christopher Akerlinds lighting is well done, and especially interesting during the storm sequence.

Purists may find fault with the direction of The Opera Theatre of St. Louis' unusual staging of The Barber of Seville, but it's actually a very entertaining production, even if it takes considerable liberties with the original work. The show is in rotation with La Rondine, Richard the Lionheart, and Emmeline, and all play through June 28, 2015 on the Mainstage of the Loretto-Hilton. Check out www.opera-stl.org for the complete schedule.

Photo Credit: Ken Howard



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From This Author Chris Gibson