Mayhem and Merriment at Florentine Opera’s ‘Barber of Seville’
The creative versatility of the Florentine Opera’s programming is a living testament to opera as a living art form. Opening this season with the world premiere of Robert Aldridge’s Sister Carrie, they will close 2016-2017 with the ever-popular Gioachino Rossini favorite, The Barber of Seville, a comic opera that defines the genre with enough buffoonery to fill the stage with endless musical delight. Barber is actually a prequel to Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro and while it may not have the lingering poignancy of Mozart, it’s a lot more fun with Count Almaviva pursuing Rosina in several disguises. The barber has his own agenda but remains supportive of the count’s shenanigans.
As explained by the Florentine’s General Director William Florescu, one of his objectives is to gather a cast of performers “who though they might not be familiar to Milwaukee audiences will come as a pleasant surprise by exceeding listener’s expectations—there are not that many name singers at large but there are many young artists of remarkable talent establishing their reputations round the globe. We have a terrific set of singers for The Barber, but our continuing objective has been the policy of doing a new work each season as well as honoring the repertoire of long-time standards.”
The Barber of Seville is a continuum of zany humor with its own illogical consistency. Rossini’s signature style with its endless runs of scales might best be characterized as coloratura on steroids, but of course that’s part of the fun. As listeners struggle to discern the endless rapid flow of dialogue, we realize that this is operatic satire at its most inventive, requiring singers of exceptional agility and interpretive talent.
Florescu will be directing the stage production. “My first exposure to musical theater was Gilbert and Sullivan,” he recalls, “and I look forward to bringing that same kind of loose-limbed fun to highly energized works such as Barber of Seville.”
Heading the cast as Figaro is Mexican American baritone Luis Alejandro Orozco in his Florentine debut. He has performed throughout the United States in Marriage of Figaro, Carmen and Don Giovanni. Veteran conductor Joseph Rescigno marks his 35th year with the Florentines conducting Barber.
Florescu anticipates top-notch performances from his cast. “Almaviva will be performed by Taylor Stayton, one of the hottest upcoming Bel Canto tenors singing roles across the country and in Europe, and promises to be an exciting Count Almaviva.” In the critical role of Rosina, Spanish mezzo-soprano Carol Garcia will appear in her American stage debut. “She’s an upcoming international artist specializing in this repertoire, and has sung this role across Europe,” Florescu says. Andy Wilkowske as Bartolo and Peter Volpe as Basilio rounds out a promising cast in the demanding bass roles. “Name recognition is not as important as the quality of singing, which we are confident this cast has the ability to offer,” Florescu continues.
Barber of Seville offers challenges that make great demands on the imagination of the listener, since the highly individual vocal line comes very close to parody. It’s Rossini’s most popular opera and meant for more sophisticated tastes.
The Florentine Opera’s ongoing policy of combining old and new remains evident in their programming for next season, which will include the new opera Prince of Players by Carlisle Floyd, the composer of Susannah, performed by the Florentines in 2010. Florescu hopes to draw new audiences to the venerable art form. “For those who have never heard an opera, every performance is a new experience whether it’s Madame Butterfly or Elmer Gantry. Our recent recording of Wuthering Heights won singular acclaim in Opera News, and we have high hopes for forthcoming seasons. Whatever the repertoire, old or new, those willing to experience an opera performance will experience a new source of pleasure, and hopefully one that will bring long-lasting satisfaction.”
The Florentine Opera performs The Barber of Seville May 5 and 7 at the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts’ Uihlein Hall, 929 N. Water St. For tickets, visit florentineopera.org.