A comedic tale of an obstacle-filled love affair, The Barber of Seville is often listed as Rossini’s magnum opus. The Edmonton Opera’s production of the show transports Rossini’s 19th century opera to 1940s Seville, Spain. When the blossoming relationship between the enamoured Count Almaviva and vivacious Rosina is threatened by her self-interested guardian, it is the endearingly meddlesome Figaro – the barber of Seville – who offers his assistance.
Changing the time period of the opera is a bold choice, given how integral the setting is to the original play. Modernization of any story poses a risky but interesting tradeoff – the sacrifice of original authorial intent for a more relevant or potentially fascinating message. In this case, reviving the original setting certainly could have garnered the audience’s interest, as period pieces often do. However, there is no clear enhancement to the story by changing its setting. For the most part, it seems as though the time change is merely a device to garner the audience’s attention rather than a significant contribution to the opera itself. For instance, a reference to Frank Sinatra feels inappropriate, and might have been best kept out of the script. The production would have been better served by using the original time period, or further exploring the 1940s setting rather than using it as an audience draw.
However, the change in time period is not entirely problematic. The set itself is magnificent, clearly conveying the context of the new time era. The use of colour, from the red flower in Rosina’s hair to the changing indigo-violet of the backdrop, is absolutely striking. Merely looking at the stage conveys the richness and exuberance of Rossini’s work. Posing a contrast to the aesthetic appeal are drawbacks to the other senses. At times, it seems as though the visual strength of the opera overwhelms the power of its sound. On more than one occasion the music nearly disappears, its volume almost undetectable. The only portion of the performance distinctly accentuated by the music is the very beginning, when the overture is performed powerfully and freely.
Highlighting the music as the driving force of the story would have certainly strengthened the quality of the production. But if there is one saving grace for this neglect, it is the opera’s pervasive use of humour. The star of the show is without a doubt Phillip Addis, whose theatrical expressions, exaggerated movements, and rich baritone brought the character of Figaro to life. In spite of the character’s inflated sense of self, Addis’ Figaro is instantly loveable and a pleasure to watch. The cast altogether is cohesive, enhancing the comical moments of the story.
Overall, even if its creative risks didn’t entirely pay off, The Barber of Seville is delightful and full of laughs. Fans of Rossini’s original opera may find the change in the time period unwelcome, but the performance itself is thoroughly entertaining.
The Barber of Seville will be playing its final show tonight, October 30th, at the Northern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium. For those interested in attending future productions of the Edmonton Opera, Mozart’s The Magic Flute will be opening on January 31st, 2015.
Photography courtesy of Nanc Price and the Edmonton Opera.