Arts & Culture

FUN WITH FIGARO

Roger McCracken as Doctor Bartolo scolds Kindra Scharich as Rosina.
Roger McCracken as Doctor Bartolo scolds Kindra Scharich as Rosina. TRIBUNE PHOTO BY DAVID MIDDLECAMP

Whether you’re a fervent opera fan or an utter novice, you probably recognize “The Barber of Seville.”

Over the past two centuries, Gioachino Rossini’s comic opera has become a popular staple for performing arts groups great and small. The opera has been showcased on “Mrs. Doubtfire,” “Seinfeld”

and “The Simpsons,” and parodied by the likes of Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck and Woody Woodpecker.

“More people know ‘Barber’ than realize it,” said Ron Luchsinger, who directs Opera San Luis Obispo’s upcoming production of “The Barber of Seville.” “That music is just there all the time in the air and we don’t have any trouble (recognizing it).”

Roberto Perlas Gomez, who plays the title character, agreed.

“ ‘The Barber’ is one of the most perfect operas to bring to first-time opera audiences,” he said of the Italian-language classic, which runs Friday and Sunday at the Performing Arts Center in San Luis Obispo. “It is completely fun.”

Lasting appeal

First performed in Rome in 1816, “The Barber of Seville” is the prequel to Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s equally popular opera, “The Marriage of Figaro.” Both are based on plays by French playwright Pierre Beaumarchais.

According to the director, “The Barber of Seville” remains one of the most entertaining works in the operatic repertoire.

“It has an immediate appeal and charm,” said Luchsinger, who directed Opera SLO’s production of “La bohème” last year. “The audience loves it and the singers love doing it.”

A sparkling comedy sung in the “bel canto” style, “The Barber of Seville” centers on the romance between Count Almaviva ( “La bohème” alumnus Chester Pidduck) and the beautiful Rosina (Kindra Scharich). Figaro serves as matchmaker, advising the count and passing messages between the pair.

His attempts to bring the lovebirds together — while simultaneously tricking Rosina’s guardian, Doctor Bartolo (Roger McCracken), and singing teacher, Don Basilio (Alvaro Ramirez) — result in a series of madcap misadventures.

The rest of the Opera SLO cast includes Bobby Cleath as Ambrogio, Scott Ingham as Fiorello and Elizabeth Wells as Berta.

“Figaro’s wit is the major propelling force in the entire piece,” said Gomez, who began singing the role in his early 20s and has appeared in about 10 productions of the opera. “There’s a sense that things revolve around him.

“This character is written in such a way that if I’m not a real smart aleck, if I go onstage without sufficient energy, I’m not going to be able to do this role.”

One example of that boundless energy is Figaro’s famous aria, “Largo al factotum,” which appears in the opera’s first act. Advertising his trade to the townspeople, the eager jack-of-all-trades congratulates himself on being “A barber of quality! …A most fortunate man indeed!”

According to Luchsinger, the aria also offers a sample of those tongue-twisting lyrics that later influenced English songwriting duo W.S. Gilbert and Albert Sullivan.

“It’s very precise,” he said, and very funny. “It’s a piece you should expect to laugh, chuckle and smile through.”

Energetic humor

As a whole, Luchsinger said, “The Barber of Seville” requires vocal virtuosity, ingenious staging and crack comedic timing. Just take the opera’s classic shaving scene, in which Figaro distracts the doctor with a memorable shave.

“I’m always a little inspired by the Marx Brothers when I do this piece,” the director said, citing the comedy team’s energetic blend of physical and verbal humor. “It’s tricky to do because the ensemble numbers have to be timed just right.”

Like the Marx Brothers, Luchsinger said “The Barber of Seville” offers audiences a much-needed dose of lighthearted humor.

“It’s a great piece that will take your mind off the troubles of the world for an hour or two,” he said.

Reach Sarah Linn at 781-7907.

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