Can you mount an opera like Rossini’s Barber of Seville on a shoestring budget and also squeeze all the laughs and coloratura out of every moment? If you are Josh Shaw, Artistic Director of Pacific Opera Company and his partner, Music Director Stephen Karr, you can. They are on a mission to bring the fun of opera to the masses and it’s working.
Now in their second season, they are in production with Barber at the Ebell Club of Highland Park. After a mere five days for costumes and rehearsal, they have shined with a hilarious up-to-date and yet extremely old- fashioned show. In Rossini’s time, the opera buffo was done in courts and small settings and yet today it fills grand opera halls. Those are great too but what you gain in beauty and majesty you lose in intimacy and frugality. The simple sets work wonderfully as does the single four handed piano accompaniment. At first I was disappointed not to get a fuller version of Rossini's thrilling score but as the production progressed, it seemed just right for the show and venue.
POP’s venues are small and so no chance of being stuck in the nose- bleed section. And the price of tickets is even smaller. ($100 for a table for four, including wine and food?) The winning ticket, however, is talent. Music and comedy. Coming from an opera background (he’s a tenor), Shaw is very serious about both. He’s also an innovative director who reaches out to the audience by framing the operas and the subtitles into familiar themes of the day. Last year we were delighted by the “Gone With the Wind” style of Cosi Fan Tutte. With Barber of Seville, we find our story updated to be a Hollywood saga with actors, fans, rock stars and drugs. There is even a homage to the LAPD. And the physical comedy is boisterously over the top. No stodgy yawn-producing work here. It’s like going to The Groundlings sketch comedy show and finding brilliant singing along with a wonderfully put together story.
And they are getting noticed by some of the working talents of the day. Already singers are flying in from across the country to audition for their shows. In Barber of Seville, the very funny Alex Adams-Leytes who won the role of the over the top arrogant and sleazy manager, Bartolo, flew in from Minneapolis. He becomes the brunt of so many jokes including having his undies pulled up around his head! Rossini would be proud!
This isn’t to say that there are some glitches here and there, such as problems with subtitle machine – but Shaw even makes fun of their low budget. In Barber, we are told that the company is too cheap to hire another actor to play the notary, so they pull up someone from the audience to play. I had the pleasure of being the notary the night we attended. (And I was told this was not a plant – the performer who picked me did not know I would be writing about this experience!) The singers were having so much fun, I was thinking to myself in my next life I wanted to be a comic opera singer, and then whoosh! I had a chance to experience the wonderfully appreciative crowd reaction to all the little jokes and awesome singing from onstage.
Roberto Perlas-Gomez is one of the best Figaro’s I have ever seen. His voice is so powerful and yet sweet. And his acting and comic timing are well honed in this role. He is physically and vocally commanding and single-handedly raises the level of the show a few notches in my estimation.
Lauren Edwards as Rosina certainly brings the most contemporary humor ever to her character. Her voice is strong and she is very funny. It’s great to see these classic roles so updated.
Phil Meyer as Basilio is perhaps the most original and side-splitting character. He prances around with his leopard leotard and coke imbibing numbness. Quite a range from his stint as Sweeney Todd at POP last season!
Clark Sturdevant as the ultra handsome, famous and rich celebrity is a little more low key, until he dresses up as a security guard and then a cross dressing music teacher and then the sparks fly!
A wonderful show and not to be missed! Only three more performances!
Photographs by Mik Milman
Georja Umano is an actor and animal advocate.
Pacific Opera Project
323-739-6122 | [email protected]
The Barber of Seville by G. Rossini.
Friday, March 15 – 8:00 pm
Saturday, March 16 – 8:00 pm
Sunday, March 17 – 7:00 pm
The Ebell Club of Highland Park, 131 S. Ave. 57, Los Angeles, CA 90042
Free parking is available in the lot across the street.