Utah Opera Presents The Barber of Seville—and “You Have to See It to Believe It”
First Large-Scale Opera in Salt Lake City Since Pandemic Shutdown in March 2020
SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH (September 24, 2021) – When Utah Opera stages Rossini’s The Barber of Seville this October, it will have been 621 days since a large-scale opera last played in the Janet Quinney Lawson Capitol Theatre. The production was originally scheduled to be performed in March 2020, but was shut down just two days before opening night due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
At long last, with five performances between October 9 and October 17, audiences have the opportunity to experience Michael Shell’s vivacious and eccentric take on this classic comic opera—a production which Utah Opera Artistic Director Christopher McBeth says you have to see to believe.
The Barber of Seville is the hilarious story of a love triangle involving Dr. Bartolo, Count Almaviva, and the charming Rosina. Figaro—the local barber who, in fact, does much more than cut hair—is the ultimate “wingman” for Count Almaviva, creating elaborate schemes, aliases, and disguises to help him fool Dr. Bartolo and get the girl.
Starting with a plotline that already veers into absurdity, director Michael Shell carries the zaniness even further in his production, which is set somewhat ambiguously in the mid- to late-20th century (a time period Shell describes as ”B.C. — before cellphones”). There is, for example, a recurring theme of roosters in the scenery, a hallucinogenic dream sequence, and, at one point, the cast even breaks out into the “chicken dance.” With much of the action taking place at a festival in Seville, Spain, we find jugglers, stilt walkers, and plenty of brightly colored cotton candy.
But there is also a method to the madness—the imaginative production feels completely fresh for contemporary audiences. “I wanted to bring new life to the work and give people the same feeling of the unexpected that 19th century audiences would have had watching for the first time back when the opera premiered,” explains Shell.
Shell looked to films by the Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar, who is known for walking the line between dramatic comedy and melodramatic absurdity. And, like Almodóvar, by putting the characters in completely wacky situations, he provides greater context for their lives. “By using his films as inspiration, we are giving these characters a new depth, which ultimately reveals much more heart and humor,” Shell explains. “Unexpected things are revealed about characters whom we thought we knew,” adds McBeth.
In this updated staging, the curmudgeonly Dr. Bartolo is an optometrist, Rosina is his assistant, and Basilio is a wannabe rock star. Interestingly, minor characters such as Berta, who is transformed into a seductive housekeeper with a penchant for martinis and margaritas, also receive deeper development with more stage time.
The clever and enterprising Figaro is played by Michael Adams, named one of “25 Rising Stars” by Opera News. Adams has been an audience favorite in previous Utah Opera productions—including La bohème, Pagliacci, and Gianni Schicchi—and McBeth asserts that he is one of the only baritones in the world with the specific skillset needed to take on the Figaro of this production. Rosina will be played by mezzo-soprano Sarah Coit, a former Utah Opera Resident Artist whom McBeth describes as having an “incomparable coloratura” (a voice type distinguished by an ability to sing highly ornamented or embellished melodies).
Adams and Coit, along with Matthew Grills (Count Almaviva), were all part of the cast that nearly made it to opening night for the would-have-been production a year-and-a-half ago—and with chemistry already in place from their preparations back in March 2020, they are thrilled to return and finally see the opera through to the stage.
That stage will be set in bold, vibrant colors, with a 2014 set design by Shoko Kambara that is “visually always changing,” according to McBeth. “If you had to describe this opera in one word, it’s ‘colorful,’” he adds. Kambara uses lots of eye-catching orange, inspired by the ubiquitous orange trees in Seville, and costume designer Amanda Seymour dresses the cast in bright hues and striking patterns. (Click here to watch Opera Philadelphia’s 2014 preview video.)
From the effervescent set to the wild scenarios the characters navigate, this production of The Barber of Seville is “a big show about irreverence and being completely out of control,” says McBeth. “But the craziness never gets in the way of the music and the text.”
Which is important, because The Barber of Seville is undeniably a masterpiece and is musically extraordinary. The bubbly score—which the Utah Symphony performs live with the cast and Utah Opera Chorus, all conducted by Gary Thor Wedow—will likely be familiar to most audience members, whether from concert halls, movie scores, or even Bugs Bunny cartoons.
Still, “If you’ve seen The Barber of Seville previously, I assure you that you are about to see it as never before,” McBeth warns. “And, it tuns out, this is the perfect moment for this production. We simply needed to give our community a lively and fun return to the opera. It couldn’t have gone any other way.”
Season Sponsor for Utah Symphony | Utah Opera is the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Foundation. Utah Opera expresses its gratitude to Production Sponsor Salt Lake County Zoo, Arts & Parks, Opera Artistic Director Sponsor Emma Eccles Jones Foundation, Conductor Sponsor The Grand America Hotel and Little America Hotel Salt Lake City, and Opening Night Sponsor Judy Brady & Drew W. Browning.
Red Carpet Photos: Show Off Your Night at the Opera!
Take a photo on the red carpet at the Janet Quinney Lawson Capitol Theatre at opening night, Saturday, October 9, beginning at 6:30 PM—then tag yourself on the Utah Opera Facebook page when the photos are posted!
- Prelude Talks: One hour before each performance, ticket holders are invited to join Utah Opera Principal Coach Carol Anderson to learn more about the production at a free talk in the Capitol Room of the Janet Quinney Lawson Capitol Theatre. The talk will also be available online here.
- Opera-tunities Night: On Thursday, October 7, students in grades 7 through 12 can attend Utah Opera’s final dress rehearsal at the Janet Quinney Lawson Capitol Theatre. Opera-tunities Night is free for public/charter school students and their teachers, and $5 for private/home school students and their teachers. (Teachers can also receive professional development credit for attending an in-service training at 6:00 PM).
- Learn Before You Go: Read about the history, music, storyline, and more, though a five-part, online adult learning course on The Barber of Seville.