Crosscut Tout: Having fun with 'The Barber of Seville'

The Seattle Opera held a 'Mane Event' recently to promote its upcoming production, which opens Saturday (Jan. 15).

Crosscut archive image.

Beard and 'stache contestants at the opera's 'Barber' promotion.

The Seattle Opera held a 'Mane Event' recently to promote its upcoming production, which opens Saturday (Jan. 15).

The scene: shaggy dudes and long-tressed ladies getting makeovers and shaves on the grand concourse of McCaw Hall while a barbershop quartet croons "Lila Rose." At the top of the stairs, a voice sings in Italian, "Largo al factotum," or "Make way for the Fixer."

That would be baritone David Adam Moore playing the part of Figaro, Seville's busy barber (and fixer). All this commotion, at McCaw's first open house since 2003, was part of a  promotion for Rossini's comic masterpiece, The Barber of Seville, which opens a run of nine performances on Saturday night (Jan. 15).

The "mane event" (Moore's aria aside) had little to do with the specifics of the opera beyond its title. Instead, it was an old-fashioned PR stunt, a welcome sign that Seattle Opera isn't too stuck up.

"Barber is as entertaining an opera as you can find," said the erudite Jonathan Dean, the opera's director of public programs, who proved a good sport by entering the "closest shave" contest.

The real event starts Saturday under Dean Williamson's baton. The biggest draws will be two graduates of the opera's Young Artists Program, tenor Lawrence Brownlee as Count Almaviva and Sarah Coburn as Rosina; roles they've both sung before to great acclaim (Brownlee at the Met in New York, Coburn in Los Angeles). The other singer known to Seattle audiences, mezzo-soprano Kate Lindsey, who created the title role of Amelia last year, performs Rosina in the second cast. Lindsey, a mezzo who is being touted as the successor to the great Frederica von Stade, will bring a completely different, duskier shading to Rosina's character and turn the Friday and Sunday performances into a truly alternate interpretation.

The rest of the production is a reunion of sorts for the opera's Young Artists Program. The stage director is Peter Kazaras, who is also artistic director of the YAP (and a superb tenor himself). Brownlee, Coburn, and Moore are all YAP alumni, and Williamson (who now directs the Cleveland Opera) spent five years as YAP's musical director.

You might think you know this Figaro from the famous Bugs Bunny cartoon, "The Rabbit of Seville," but that music was Mozart's "Marriage of Figaro." Barber is a prequel, setting up Figaro's role in Almaviva's conquest of Rosina. It's a classic of commedia del arte, with stock characters well-known to audiences at the time. By the time Mozart rolls around, Figaro himself is getting married and Almaviva, bored with Rosina, wants Figaro's bride for himself.

It's a darker, more complex and even revolutionary plot, since the commoner, Figaro, outsmarts his aristocratic master at every turn. Rossini's opera eschews politics for laughs, as good a reason as any to go see the Barber of McCaw.

If you go: Seattle Opera presents Gioachino Rossini's Barber of Seville, Jan. 15-29 at McCaw Hall, 321 Mercer Street, Seattle. Tickets cost $25 to $208; during a Family Day matinee on Jan. 23, up to four $15 student tickets can be purchased with one full-price ticket. Tickets are available by phone (206-389-7676), at the box office (1020 John St., Seattle), or online.


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Ronald Holden

Ronald Holden

Ronald Holden is a regular Crosscut contributor. His new book, published this month, is titled “HOME GROWN Seattle: 101 True Tales of Local Food & Drink." (Belltown Media. $17.95).