Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Review: Pittsburgh Opera Gives Classic 'Barber of Seville' a Hollywood Makeover

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Review: Pittsburgh Opera Gives Classic 'Barber of Seville' a Hollywood Makeover

Article excerpt

Most people in the Benedum Center were probably surprised to see a movie set grace the stage on Saturday night.

After all, this was a production of "The Barber of Seville," Rossini's most famous opera, which was composed almost exactly 200 years ago. That's a bit of a stretch from the mid-20th century Hollywood brought to life in Pittsburgh Opera's production, complete with stage lights in full view, a movie screen and a trailer for the star actress.

But for an opera produced as frequently as "Barber," it's understandable that Pittsburgh Opera would want to offer a fresh take, especially for audience members who have seen the company stage it before (most recently in 2010). Removing an opera from its original context can rub some audience members the wrong way, although such updates tend to be more common and more risqu in Europe than in the U.S.

The world of Hollywood suited Rossini's opera, which thrives on absurdity and disorder, and Pittsburgh Opera's production had echoes of the backstage mayhem characterized in Michael Frayn's play "Noises Off."

Count Almaviva attempts to woo his beloved Rosina, the starlet in this version, who is both loved and contractually controlled by the film producer Bartolo. With the help of the hair-and-makeup artist Figaro, Almaviva dresses in various disguises - as a drunken soldier, as the assistant to Rosina's goofy music teacher, Don Basilio - to see Rosina and thwart her marriage to Bartolo. At the same time, Almaviva assumes a humble identity as "Lindoro" to ensure that she loves him for reasons other than his wealth.

Inevitably, there were moments when the Hollywood scenario didn't square with Cesare Sterbini's libretto. While some of those incongruities were explained in the program notes and synopsis, the setup required that we suspend some disbelief. If you were willing to do so, the movie studio setting made for a clever approach.

Much of that was thanks to director Linda Brovsky's staging, which embraced the opera's textual and musical bedlam. Two handsome bulldogs accompanied Bartolo around the studio, an ideal representation of the over-the-top Hollywood executive. …

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