Amarillo Opera: Barber of Seville; Globe News Center; Amarillo, Texas Oct 8, 2022
Think Three Stooges. Then think of opera. Then think of Mo, Larry and Curly performing the vocal pyrotechnics of opera as they slapsticked through their shtick. A stretch? Most likely. But that is, in essence, what an Amarillo audience witnessed and enjoyed Oct. 8 at Amarillo Opera’s production of The Barber of Seville at the Globe News Center.
If this opera reigns at the summit of Mt. Opera Buffa, then the chronicle of the production has traction on the slopes. Rossini crafted this two-act work using an Italian libretto by Cesare Sterbini, as well as the first part of a three-part series from Le Barbier de Seville by French playwright Pierre Beaumarchais. Mozart grabbed part two for Das Hochzeit des Figaro.
However, one of Rossini’s rivals, Giovanni Paisello, had written his own version, and on opening night at the Teatro Argentina, he larded the audience with his supporters, who jeered the entire performance. It didn’t help that one of the leads fell face-first on the stage and had a copious nosebleed, or that an errant cat wandered onto the stage showing no evidence of stage fright.
Remember, this is Italy, and they take even comic opera seriously!
Not an auspicious opening, to be sure, so Rossini stayed home the next night. That performance was a success, and a happy crowd marched to his home to give him quite literally, a standing ovation!
But the comedy of errors didn’t conclude with the opening night. Rossini poached the overture from another of his operas. And, later emendations and copyists’ mistakes were transmitted to posterity as if from the pen of Gioachino himself.
Thus, what the audience enjoyed was a not-to-be-taken- seriously slice of life with all of the elements of opera: pursuit of true love; deception; intrigue; greed; disguise; unforgettable music. At the center of it is Figaro, the barber, who masterfully manipulates the complicated sequence of events to create a happy ending.
Director Fenlon Lamb’s and Set Designer Jefferson Risenour’s staging was minimalist, reminding one of Isamu Noguchi in Martha Graham’s original Appalachian Spring. But, the props were sufficient to cue the audience as to setting and sequence.
This put the messaging totally on the performers, who delivered in epic style.
Figaro’s Largo al Factotum, superbly sung by Andrew Craig Brown, set a very high bar. That level was certainly attained, and perhaps surpassed by Rossina, sung by Ashley Dixon, who revealed her character as a mistress of facades and misleading impressions.
Though this was a comic opera, Fenlon Lamb struck the right balance between hilarity and buffoonery, giving the characters mimic and ridicule latitude as they tried to foil their antagonists.
The greatest applause during the opera came after a scene which was the result of evolutionary tweaking alluded to earlier. Count Alamaviva poses as a singing instructor and gives his beloved a faux lesson. Rossini’s direction for the scene was: “Rossina sings an aria, ad libitum, for the occasion.” Thus, over the years, performer’s choices have run amuck.
Mary Jane Johnson, General and Artistic Director of Amarillo Opera cued the audience that Rossini’s score allowed what attendees would certainly recognize. Terry Stafford and Paul Fraser wrote what is, for folk here’bouts, the iconic Amarillo by Morning, which comprised the singing lesson. Rossina drew peals of laughter as she demonstrated the inability of those not fluent in Panhandle-Plains patois to properly say “Amarillo.”
Credit Conductor Michael Ching with composing this unique insertion, which marked a world premier for its part in a Rossini opera. Artsy afficionados might recall Ching, who hails from Ames, Iowa, as the creator of Speed Dating, also performed by Amarillo Opera.
And, hands really came together for Amarillo’s own Chancellor Barbaree, who played the servant Fiorello.
Kudos to cast, crew and all involved for making this production a roaring success, one which even picky audiences of the Met would find entertaining. And, a nearly full house at the Globe News Center testified to the support given by this community to this finest of the fine arts.
But wait, fine opera in the Panhandle of Texas, where the sky meets the howling wind? As anomalous as it seems, opera, and myriad other fine art forms not only exist, but flourish in this place.
That’s why we say with confidence, not hubris,
Keep Amarillo Artsy!
Keep Austin Weird!
Keep Lubbock in the Rear View Mirror!!!!!