Physical comedy includes a turn by Seattle burlesque star Waxie Moon in opera debut.
Giaochino Rossini’s “The Barber of Seville”: one of the great door comedies?
Well, sure. Exquisitely timed entrances and exits through a bevy of doors — as well as bouts of confusion by characters over which door is which — get the spotlight by director Lindy Hume and production designer Tracy Grant Lord for Seattle Opera’s rollicking, cheeky “Barber.”
With an eye-popping set featuring scores of doors and other openings amid charming blasts of colors and textures, this “Barber” draws inspiration from the frenetic he’s-in-now-he’s-out action in Buster Keaton movies, “Noises Off,” or eccentric filmmaker Wes Anderson’s “The Grand Budapest Hotel.”
Seattle Opera: “The Barber of Seville”
Oct. 14-28 at McCaw Hall, 321 Mercer St., Seattle; $15-$328 (206-389-7676 or seattleopera.org).
Hume promises there’s even a Kramer-like moment in which someone either bursts or glides through a door, a la “Seinfeld.”
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“ ‘The Barber of Seville’ is about an attempt to escape,” says Hume, artistic director of Opera Queensland in Australia. “There’s a kind of shtick that can go with ‘Barber,’ so it’s hard to find a completely clean slate. This one really began with the idea of doors, so we’re paying homage to that classic staple. There are all kinds of indoor-outdoor, wide-open or deadlocked doors. There are some to the exterior of Figaro’s place; others that keep lovers apart.”
Hume, a native of Paddington, Australia, directed a well-received “Barber” last year at Opera Queensland for the 200th anniversary of Rossini’s comic masterpiece. Her concept and that production’s set and century-spanning costumes have been imported to Seattle Opera. She and those materials then move on to Opera New Zealand in what amounts to an official co-production between the three companies.
Composed over two weeks by a 23-year-old Rossini, with a libretto by Cesare Sterbini, “Barber” is essentially a prequel to Mozart’s 1786 “The Marriage of Figaro.” It’s a tale of disguises, mixed-up identities and a plot hatched by the scheming Figaro, the titular barber, and young, lovestruck Count Malvino to liberate the fair Rosina from her reluctant engagement to her old guardian, Bartolo.
The sumptuous score, including familiar and oft-quoted music (in everything from a Bugs Bunny cartoon to “Mrs. Doubtfire”), will be conducted by Giacomo Sagripanti, who collaborated with Hume last year on Seattle Opera’s “The Wicked Adventures of Count Ory.”
Seattle’s cast includes Spanish soprano Sabina Puértolas and Russian soprano Sofia Fomina alternating as Rosina; American tenors Matthew Grills and Andrew Owens as Almaviva; bass Kevin Glavin as Bartolo; and baritones John Moore and Will Liverman trading off as Figaro. In supporting roles are Daniel Sumegi, Margaret Gawrysiak, Ryan Bede and Kwangsuk Ku.
A crucial element is Ambrogio, Bartolo’s elderly servant. Hume has tweaked the nonspeaking character to be really elderly: 200 years old, a nod to the long duration of “Barber” in opera repertoire. Cast in the part is Juilliard-trained dancer Marc Kenison, whose alter ego on Seattle stages is gender-bending burlesque star Waxie Moon.
“He’s going to bring extraordinary physicality, in all sorts of ways,” says Hume.
“It’s wonderful, it’s a blast,” says Kenison. “I’ve never been in an opera before, and it’s astounding to watch them work and be a part of that work. The idea is my Ambrogio has been around since the original production [of “Barber” in 1816]. He’s got a lot of tasks to handle and he’s pretty overwhelmed by all the chaos.
“There’s a lot of stage magic. The set is incredibly dynamic. Everybody’s running around like crazy.”
A review in The Australian of the Opera Queensland production praised the “riotously funny, utterly assured” original version for its “madcap” portrayal of Figaro as a “livewire improviser.” That same review also commended moments of fourth-wall-breaking comic irony, bringing the audience in on self-aware humor.
Seattle Opera audiences can expect the same.
“I’m interested in having the audience identify with the characters and action,” says Hume. “This is a very bold, bright and lovable production.”