‘The Barber of Seville” has frequently been written up as the greatest of all comic operas. Beethoven admired it, despite his fury that everyone in Vienna was whistling Rossini’s tunes and not his. Verdi thought it was “the most beautiful opera buffa there is,” and there are numerous quotes from 19th and 20th-century critics touting it as “Rossini’s masterpiece.”
It is an amazing musical adaptation of the Beaumarchais story of how a resourceful barber helps a travelling nobleman abduct a young lady he loves from her nasty old guardian.
Preceding the legendary success of the 23-year-old Rossini’s 16th opera, much has been written about the fiasco of its debut performance 200 years ago on February 20, 1816, in Rome’s Teatro Argentina, most of it true.
The Count’s guitar in the serenade was tuned to a different pitch from the orchestra’s; there was mockery of Spanish-style hazel jackets; there was rowdy animosity in the lobby; audience jeering, whistles, and catcalls prevailed, as one mishap succeeded another. Basilio sang his “Calunnia” aria with a bloodied nose after tripping over a trapdoor. To add to the busy Act I finale, a cat wandered onstage, apparently enjoying the stage attention, declined to leave, and was forcibly flung into the wings!
Such is the nature of live theater, and what goes terribly wrong one night can be forgotten in the space of 24 hours. This was the case with Rossini’s Barber. Rossini strongly believed in his musical score, and despite the unpleasant reception of its debut, he felt the music had shone through, and it would be heard more clearly at the second performance. He was right. It was a triumph the second evening and all subsequent performances since.
Though it is more or less indestructible, “The Barber of Seville” is best served by conductors and stage directors shrewd enough to know that, for all its comic frenzy, the opera is a musical and theatrical mechanism of extraordinary sophistication and skill. For Boheme Opera’s semi-stagings, Artistic Director Joseph Pucciatti will conduct 22 members of the Boheme Opera Orchestra, while stage director Howard Zogott will shape the interaction of a seven-member cast and a six-member men’s chorus ensemble — all of which will be on the stages of two venues — on Sunday, January 29, at 3 p.m. at the Mildred and Ernest E. Mayo Concert Hall in the Music Building of The College of New Jersey, and on Saturday, February 4, at 7 p.m. at Cherry Hill West High School. The production will be sung in English with the exception of the two famous arias, “Largo al factotum” and “Una voce poco fa.”
Boheme’s international cast is headed by Mexican baritone Jose Adan Perez as Figaro, with Korean soprano Sungji Kim as Rosina, tenor Thor Arbjornsson of Iceland as Count Almaviva, Greek baritone Stefanos Koroneos as Dr. Bartolo, Korean bass Paul An as Don Basilio, and American soprano Cecelia Tepping as Bertha.
This is an extraordinary opportunity for audiences of all ages to experience opera for the first time. There is a separate link for each performance to purchase online tickets: http://bit.ly/BONJ_Barber_TCNJ for January 29 ($50, $30) and thebarber2017.brownpapertickets.com for February 4 ($35 general admission, $10 students).
Learn about Boheme Opera NJ’s history and public outreach by visiting www.bohemeopera.com.
The Barber of Seville, Mildred and Ernest E. Mayo Concert Hall, The College of New Jersey, 2000 Pennington Road, Ewing. Sunday, January 29, 3 p.m. Tickets: http://bit.ly/BONJ_Barber_TCNJ
Cherry Hill West High School, 2101 Chapel Avenue, Cherry Hill. Saturday, February 4, 7 p.m. Tickets: thebarber2017.brownpapertickets.com. www.bohemeopera.com.