For its lucky 13th season, Boston Midsummer Opera celebrates the immortal shenanigans of Rossini’s Barber of Seville. The master of opera buffa sees to the improper arrangements of dowries, ladders, love, noise, triangles, mistaken identity, and headaches through splendid musical hilarity, and yes, there is collusion. Susan Davenny-Wyner directs a crack orchestra and a lively cast: Theo Lebow (Count Almaviva); Robert Balonek (Figaro), Soprano Alisa Jordheim (Rosina), Jason Budd (Don Bartolo), David Cushing (Don Basilio).
The show runs Wednesday, July 25 and Friday, July 27 at 7:30 p.m., and Sunday, July 29 at 3:00 p.m. at the Main Stage, Mosesian Center for the Arts, Watertown. Tickets HERE.
Stage Director Antonio Ocampo-Guzman answered our questions.
BMInt: Is Rossini’s The Barber of Seville the perfect opera buffa, or is that mere publicist hype?
AOG: Barber of Seville is a great opera buffa — I just don’t believe in ‘perfection.’ The way the music reflects the spirit of the characters is quite delightful — lots of dotted and double-dotted rhythms, lots of expressive ornamentation… The characters are direct descendants of the best types in commedia dell’arte, so their quick wits and their short tempers constantly place them in impossible situations that are inherently funny. For example, in one of my favorite sequences, the end of Act 1, the music absolutely mirrors the bewildered state of mind of the characters.
Coming from a different one of Beaumarchais’s plays, it doesn’t concern itself so much as Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro with Le droit du Seigneur, or similar matters now so relevant, nor does Rossini probe the human condition so deeply as Mozart in the greatest of his operas. Rossini’s highjinks never transcend opera buffo. But the Figaro character is (intentionally) disruptive in both; sometimes all we want is a light summer sparkler. Have you found any moments of poignancy in this show?
That has been our principal goal: to find the heart of the opera, and to anchor all the shenanigans in a true love story. I agree with you that Rossini doesn’t “probe the human condition” as deeply as Mozart does in Nozze di Figaro. However, I do think that what Susan and I have been rehearsing with an exceptional cast of exquisite musicianship will transcend the mere buffoonery. At the center of the story are a young man who yearns to be loved for himself, not for his title and position, and a young woman who yearns to be free from an impossible situation. Figaro may be disruptive, but in the best sense: a true catalyst.
Boston Midsummer Opera seems uninterested in updating time, place and theme of its operas. Do you ever want to make a modern political statement in your work as director?
Not necessarily in the operas I direct, because they would need much deeper dramaturgical structures to express my political views. That tends to happen more in the plays I direct, such as last year’s production of Man of La Mancha at New Repertory Theater. At BMO, we are more interested in bringing superlative opera into a very intimate and theatrical setting, so the audience experiences it in a more direct way than they would in a larger, more traditional opera house. However, I will say that in the operas I’ve directed for BMO (Merry Wives of Windsor, Bartered Bride, Il Campanello, L’amico Fritz and L’elisir d’amore) I have always endeavored to have the woman’s story at the forefront. Not only because of my politics, but also because this company is directed by a remarkable woman conductor.
What will Stephen Dobay’s sets look like?
It is the center patio of a house in Seville, adjacent to a main street. It will have a taste for the architecture of Andalusia, and the great variety of cultural influences in the region.
Coloratura Alisa Jordheim may be impersonating Rosina for the first time and she is new to these pages. Tell us something about why she fits your concept of the role and why it’s no longer sung by contraltos. Will she be making any astonishing interpolations into the singing lesson scene?
Throughout the performance history of Barber, all types of female voices have sung the role of Rosina — from the original contralto, to lyric mezzo-sopranos, to lyric sopranos, to coloratura sopranos. I suspect that tradition will continue for a long time. If you spend a little time on the Internet, you will find such diversity of interpretations: videos with the likes of Fiorenza Cossotto, Marilyn Horne, Lucia Valentini Terrani, Cecilia Bartoli, Joyce diDonato, Diana Damrau, Kathleen Battle and a very young Anna Netrebko. Also, you will find some exquisite recordings with the likes of a very young Renata Scotto, and — one of my favorites — Agnes Baltsa.
Somehow, they all work — as long as the voice is expressive and flexible, and as long as the musicianship is alert and responsive. Alisa Jordheim has those in abundance. She also looks the part, but, more importantly, her voice is gorgeous, her technique is impeccable and she is infinitely playful onstage. Interpolations? Fireworks, more like it!
I would have imagined your familiar stalwart Jason Budd as Figaro, he’s got great comic patter, and he looks a bit like the composer. Why doesn’t he get the role? Granted he’s not as funny as Willy the operatic whale.
Jason is the quintessence of opera buffa. His timing is impeccable – his sense of musical rhythm and stage shrewdness are completely interconnected, making him an ideal Bartolo. Figaro is more of an agile fox, and street smart.
Another apparent newcomer to the company, baritone Robert Balonek has played Mozart’s Count Almaviva. Will this be his debut as Rossini’s Figaro?
Three of them, Alisa, Theo Lebow (Almaviva), a company member of the Frankfurt Opera, and Balonek, will be making their company as well as their role debuts in our production. They have sung different arias and ensembles of the opera, but not the complete roles. And the three of them will blow you away.
Will the orchestra sit upstage behind a scrim again?
Yes, but no scrim this year.