The Barber of Seville

My second San Francisco Opera in a week and I find myself grappling with the art form –  complex gorgeous music couched in thin narrative, mediated through a foreign language (with subtitles), combined with acting, sets and costumes galore.  How to absorb it all?  Operas demand aerobic attention different from a symphony concert, the latter giving more room to simply listen, feel and find musical structure.   At the opera, when in doubt, follow the voice, for therein lies the glory.  The storyline provides, after all, a mere ruse for its ample play.  As such, tenor René Barbera (Count Almaviva)’s liquid ribbons of vibrato unfurled into the hall with such exquisite beauty, I found myself enthralled by their rippling power.

Yet the traditional plotlines irk:  men using their influence to imprison and trade women.  The ever-present heteronormative assumption.  The escapist romantic fantasies.  All these things a critical viewer must withstand.  But this Barber of Seville subverted these age-old shortcomings in subtle ways.  Rosina (Daniela Mack), the female lead and love object, plays the part sassy and rebellious, potentially capable of violence.  Berta (Catherine Cook), the heavyset house matron, smokes cigarettes like a man, flexes her muscles for the crowd during intermission, and comments on love with an earthy skepticism.  Overall Roy Rallo’s direction struck a lighthearted, irreverent tone to be embraced by modern audiences in one of the most beloved operas ever.

Photo by Cory Weaver

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