Pacific Opera Project has brought back its original version of The Barber of Seville after 3 ½ years. It was funny the first time around and is now even more so.
It’s hard to go wrong with such fabulous music. The Barber of Seville is one of the most beloved operas of all time. It was first performed in 1816, making this its centennial year. Its brilliance is unsurpassed as an operatic comedy. And even to non-opera buffs, Rossini’s music is so ingrained in American culture as to make it quite familiar. Back to the days when cartoons were popular in the movies, Bugs Bunny became the Rabbit of Seville. And it appeared in an episode of Seinfeld.
The setting for Italian composer Gioacchino Rossini’s original Seville-based story is once again present-day Hollywood. Much of it is the same in Josh Shaw’s production, although there are a few new highlights. A clever video intro brings us into the story with clarity by shedding a little light on the stars. Rosina (played by Meagan Martin), an old flame of Justin Bieber, has recently come out of rehab and says she doesn’t want to date an actor again. She finds herself lonely and bored in the lair of her doctor-producter, Don Bartolo (E. Scott Levin) when she is introduced to her next big romantic lead, Count Almavivo (Sergio Gonzalez) in disguise as a starving actor.
Phil Meyer, who plays Don Basilio in both versions, is his hilarious self as an old rock and roll druggie who runs around in tights inhaling as many drugs as possible. Meyer, who is also Chair of the POP Opera Board of Directors, says he is “delighted to be squeezing once again into Basilio’s skin-tight leopard pants.” Indeed, the very physical gymnastic performance he puts out requires a high degree of agility and flexibility. He must be channeling Mick Jagger.
The Dr. Bartolo character was hilarious in 2013 and in 2016 is even more so. Bartolo is enacted and sung by the brilliant comedian-singer E. Scott Levin. He frumps about the stage - great with physical comedy, and using his very mobile face as he complains and reacts from his lower chakras. He is wonderful to watch. Especially when he and Meyer’s Basilio plot and do drugs together. Quite a couple!
Gonzalez, as Almavivo, gets to use his comedy acting chops as he impersonates a drunken security guard and a woman while courting Rosina.
As was said in my review of 2013, Rossini would be proud! His opera was meant to be played in small concert halls, and catered to popular tastes of the day. So POP’s revision in many ways is making the show more authentic. By making fun of Hollywood culture, Shaw is doing exactly what the composer intended.
The newer version has included a few references that were not known in 2013, such as the Zika virus. I speak and understand fairly good Italian and I was amazed as I tried to follow the language along, at how little the subtitles strayed from the original Italian.
The bel canto style of singing is my favorite. In this production with lots of choreographed dancing, the repetitive short syllables are synchronized with the movement to make it all that much more cohesive. The costumes are updated and seem more of today. Rosina, played by the lovely Meagan Martin, struts around with her yoga pants and top for the first scenes. She is shapely and very tiny. In some ways it is amazing that such a strong and fluid sound comes from one so petite.
Figaro is a dashing figure. As played by Bernardo Bermudez – a kind of updated suave Dean Martin type he can outwit everyone and be in demand by everyone he meets. Not only does he cut hair, but he also colors, shines it too as well as waxing, facials, enemas, match-making, drug dealing and anything his clients need. Bermudez kept us excited at his next move with the ultra smoothness and fun - in addition to his great vocal chops.
Kevin Blickfeldt as Fiorello had a magical voice and presence. I hope we see more of him in the near future. Melinda Ehrlich shone as Berta.
The chorus of out-of-work singers and police were also very entertaining. As they often entered from the rear of the room, it was thrilling, while sitting in the back to have them singing over our shoulders for a few minutes before going on stage.
The entire score is once again performed by four-hand piano orchestrated by Arnold Schoenberg and played by Music Director Stephen Karr and Zach Neufeld.
Another night of fun and culture for both opera lovers and novices. Thank you, Pacific Opera Project! Keep up the good work.
Photo credit: Martha Benedict
Georja Umano is an actor and animal advocate.
PACIFIC OPERA PROJECT' - GET TICKETS
THE BARBER OF SEVILLE
Thur. Nov. 17, Fri. Nov. 18, Sat. Nov. 19
All shows at 8pm
The Ebell Club of Highland Park 131 S. Ave. 57, Los Angeles 90042