Lyric Opera of Chicago to Open Rob Ashford's New Production of THE BARBER OF SEVILLE, 2/1

Lyric Opera of Chicago presents a brand-new production of Gioachino Rossini's crowning comedic glory, The Barber of Seville, conceived by the Tony Award-winning director Rob Ashford in both his Lyric and operatic debut.

Based on the first of a series of uproarious comic plays by Beaumarchais, the eponymous barber Figaro (baritone Nathan Gunn) is the ultimate fixer, running around solving everyone's problems - and boasting about it in the famous "Largo al factotum" aria, "Figaro, Figaro, Figaro!" He involves himself in a love triangle, helping Count Almaviva (tenor Alek Shrader) woo and win the beautiful Rosina (mezzo-soprano Isabel Leonard, debut) away from her old lecherous guardian Dr. Bartolo (baritone Alessandro Corbelli), who keeps her under lock and key. All hell breaks loose not once but twice - first, when Almaviva disguises himself as a drunken soldier, and then when he presents himself as a replacement for Rosina's supposedly indisposed music master, Don Basilio (bass-baritone Kyle Ketelsen). Of course, with Figaro's invaluable assistance, all eventually ends happily for Almaviva and his beloved Rosina.

The hilarious story is paired with Rossini's effortless and infectious melodies that make the entire score, from arias to ensembles, a delight - not to mention the world-famous overture that has become pop culture's go-to operatic shorthand everywhere from Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd in "The Rabbit of Seville" to Seinfeld.

Michele Mariotti conducts this new production, directed by Rob Ashford, with sets designed by Scott Pask, costumes by five-time Tony winner Catherine Zuber, and lighting design by Howard Harrison - all Lyric debuts. The chorus master is Michael Black.

"Directing a Rossini comedy is extraordinarily difficult because the production needs to remain true to its commedia dell'arte roots, while at the same time having a kind of zany, off-the-wall comic skill," notes Anthony Freud, Lyric Opera's general director. "I've seen several of Rob Ashford's productions on Broadway and elsewhere, which confirmed for me that he is exactly the right director to take on this piece."

Ashford's concept emphasizes the romantic exuberance of the opera. "It's a love story! Working with Scott Pask and Catherine Zuber, the idea was that it should be romantic. The pure passion and the unabashed primary colors of Rosina and the Count's love - or lust - for each other are what causes the comedy. People do silly things when they're in love!"

In his first appearance at Lyric since Show Boat (2012), Nathan Gunn makes the lead role his own, noting, "He's a modern man, and I try to get that across without turning him into a comedian." Deemed "opera's new 'it' girl," by the CBC, American mezzo-soprano Isabel Leonard makes her Lyric debut as Rosina, the role that brought her international attention. After making his Lyric debut in 2011-12 as Tamino in The Magic Flute, Alek Shrader returns as Almaviva, a role in which Opera News singled him out as marrying "comic wit and matinee-idol good looks." And Alessandro Corbelli delights with his impeccable Bartolo, "all bluster and great comic timing" (The Independent, London).

Michele Mariotti - one of the rising stars in the operatic world - makes his Lyric podium debut with Barber. Principal conductor of the Teatro Comunale di Bologna since 2008, his recent podium triumphs include leading Metropolitan Opera's Rat-Pack Rigoletto and La donna del lago at the Royal Opera House, both in 2012-13.

For tickets and information call (312) 827-5600 or go to lyricopera.org.

Lyric's Discovery Series session on The Barber of Seville takes place on Wednesday, February 12, from 6 to 7 pm at the Civic Opera House and features a discussion by singers Nathan Gunn and Isabel Leonard with conductor Michele Mariotti. Roger Pines, Lyric's dramaturg, moderates. For information on this and other Discovery Series offerings go to www.lyricopera.org/discovery.

The new Lyric Opera production of The Barber of Seville is generously made possible by the Gramma Fisher Foundation of Marshalltown, Iowa, the NIB Foundation, Randy L. and Melvin R. Berlin, and Margot and Josef Lakonishok.

Pictured (side): Rob Ashford. Photo by Walter McBride.

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