As the Arsht Center for the Performing Arts filled with patrons, ready to be entertained by Florida Grand Opera’s presentation of the classic Rossini’s “The Barber of Seville,” familiar sounds emanated from the orchestra pit.
Conductor Anthony Barrese led the evening’s 80-piece orchestra in the overture to “The Barber of Seville,” which Florida Grand Opera’s Director of Operations Matt Cooskey explained, has its own unique story.
“The orchestral piece at the top of the performance was the overture to 'The Barber of Seville' by Rossini. However, he had previously used that exact same piece in two other operas – Aureliano in Palmira and Elisabetta regina d’Inghilterra,” said Cooskey.
Cooskey goes on to say that “Rossini was really under the gun when writing 'Barber' (the original music was completed in around two weeks), so he decided to borrow his own music and stick it on to the front of 'Barber.' Strangely enough, the other two operas were serious pieces, so it’s funny that he used it for a comic opera and it still worked well to set up the rest of the opera.”
As the curtain went up, a grand set showcased the balcony and introduced Count Almaviva (Michele Angelini) whose attempt to serenade Rosina (Stephanie Doche) goes awry thanks to the rambunctious group of musicians he’s hired. The scene sets the tone for the remainder of the evening which is filled with chaotic and comical vignettes that unfold the love story between the Count and Rosina.
The barber Figaro’s (Young Kwong-Yoo) first appearance drew great applause and the ensuing plan hatched by him and the Count is just the beginning of the twists and turns the production takes.
What makes FGO's "Barber" so fetching is how the performers dance and act, a rare case for opera singers but one the cast of FGO’s production handle beautifully and with ease. They all exude emotion, passion and, most of all, stellar comedic timing.
The wild and funny ride quickly ensues immediately after the balcony scene as the set moves to the home’s interior.
Set on ruining the Count’s plans to woo Rosina are Dr. Bartolo (Krisopher Irmiter) Rosina’s guardian where she resides, and Don Basilio (Rafael Porto) the house music master and her instructor.
After Basilio informs Dr. Bartolo of Count Almaviva’s impending marriage proposal, the doctor quickly draws up a marriage contract, but Figaro and the Count continue in their pursuit of Rosina.
As the story continues, Count Almaviva, with Figaro’s assistance, takes on several other characters including, a soldier with papers as well as a music teacher, both personas which allow him to make his way into Dr. Bartolo’s home and continue pursuing Rosina.
The scenes between the Count and Rosina are priceless, as they exchange hidden romantic dialogue through song. He manages to slip her a love note during an uproar that draws the police to the doctor’s home. Later, when Count returns as the music teacher, another concocted scheme gives the two lovebirds time alone during a music lesson.
Figaro, who plays messenger throughout, is a happy-go-lucky barber that will do anything to see the Count and Rosina end up together. Adding to the slapstick chaos are supporting cast members Berta (Susan Neves) and Ambrogio (Ian Campbell), the servants at Dr. Bartolo’s home.
Basilio who is Dr. Bartolo’s confidante, stands in the way of their happiness and is always around to report the sneaky behavior of Figaro, Rosina and the Count. Basilio also causes Rosina anxiety as he feeds her lies about the Count, all in his plan to ensure she marries Dr. Bartolo.
In the end though, Figaro’s handiwork, diverting Dr. Bartolo and Basilio away, and the Count coming clean with Rosina helps victory prevail for Rosina and Count Almaviva.
Prepared to be wowed by the actors portraying these parts as Cooskey says that “Michele Angelini in the title role of Count Almaviva has played the role several times and called a lot of his own shots on this show, especially since he’s such an expert we leaned on his intuition a lot.”
Angelini, because of his experience with the part, performed a technically demanding aria perfectly on point, which is nearly nine minutes long.
Florida Grand Opera was also incredibly proud of Stephanie Doche who played the role of Rosina because she was one of their Studio Artist's last year at Florida Grand Opera. "She has a stellar combination of attitude and talent, she is remarkable in how unique she is and for her to have a performance like she’s had at the Arsht Center, it’s a culmination of her experience here at Florida Grand Opera. This performance will be a springboard for her career into other big opportunities around the country. We are really happy for her," says Cooksey.
Young-Kwang Yoo who played Figaro has sung the role multiple times in the past. “He had a lot of clarity in rehearsal on what he wanted to do,” said Cooskey.
And commenting on Susan Neves who played Berta and her husband Ian Campbell who played Ambrogio Cooskey says did a phenomenal job in their minor roles.
“Susan treated it as a major part, she brought so much life and versatility in her part. She would rehearse and perform that aria differently every time and which we did to find the right balance,” Cooskey said.
With regards to the stage, set design was something FGO pored over as well. They looked at how the props were set up like the roses and some others and Cooskey says “they really turned out to be really funny. And the coat rack was added later in rehearsal as were the headpieces for Count Almaviva. In opera, because we rehearse so much, we make late fixes right up until opening night.”
At the Arsht’s final show, those late additions were obvious when a few of the actors inadvertently bumped into some of the props but it worked and added to the show’s comedic side.
The show is sung in Italian with English and Spanish projected translations.
Remaining performances are at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts, 201 SW 5th Ave., Fort Lauderdale, at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, May 18 and Saturday, May 20. Tickets are $21 to $200 depending on seat location.
Call 800-741-1010 or go to www.fgo.org.