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Cleveland Opera Theater aims for laughs with ‘The Barber of Seville’

October 3, 2018

Cleveland Opera Theater aims for laughs with ‘The Barber of Seville’

CLEVELAND, Ohio -- Officially, their objectives are clear. They want a change of pace, to sing Rossini, and to fill houses.

Really, though, they’ve got only one goal. In mounting a fully staged production of “The Barber of Seville,” the actors and leaders of Cleveland Opera Theater just want to have fun and make people laugh.

“We need a comedy,” said Domenico Boyagian, the company’s music director. “It’s so much easier to get the energy going when it’s a comedy.”

Not that the other objectives aren’t important. Yes, Boyagian and crew are looking forward to cracking people up with what amounts to a rescue story, done in the style of a 1920s gangster film, but they’re also eager to revel in Bel Canto and expand their audience with uber-popular music, including the famous “Largo al factotum.”

Start with the concept. By framing the opera as a gangster tale, Boyagian said director Scott Skiba aims both to amp up the humor and make it doubly clear that Dr. Bartolo (sung here by bass-baritone Jason Budd) is the antagonist.  

“I think it works perfectly,” Boyagian said of the production including a full orchestra, stylized sets, costumes, and projections. “It relates better to what we understand a bad guy today to be. Plus it just looks funny.”

And the music? Well, for singers, it doesn’t get much better than Rossini, a prime exemplar of the genre known as Bel Canto.

The story to “The Barber of Seville” -- a count (sung by David Margulis) recruits the barber Figaro (baritone Young Kwang Yoo) to help him wed a woman (Corrie Stallings) pledged to another man -- may be pure fluff, the situations it depicts absurd. The music, however, is serious and rewarding business.

“It’s not so much about the libretto or the story,” Boyagian said. “It’s about the singing. Its name says exactly what it’s doing: ‘Beautiful Singing.’ It’s all about showing off the quality of the singers.”

And let’s be honest. It also doesn’t hurt that “Barber of Seville” is one of the most popular, tuneful, and downright funny of operas.

For a company whose mission is to build an audience for opera, whose name used to be “Opera for All,” there’s simply no easier sell.

“We’re trying to get more people into the theater, and there’s no better opera for that than ‘Barber,’” Boyagian said.

Now back to the part about fun. Young Kwang Yoo, the singer playing Figaro, said there’s also no opera better suited for that purpose, either, given Cleveland Opera Theater’s habit of pooling its lodging resources.

In this case, he said, he and the other principal “Barber” actors are sharing a home, thereby developing the rapport critical to the success of an ensemble comedy.

“It’s really easy for the three of us to be a well prepared company,” Yoo said. “It’s part of the job, but this time it’s very different.”

PREVIEW

Cleveland Opera Theater

What: Rossini’s “The Barber of Seville”

When: 7 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 6 and 3 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 7.

Where: Maltz Performing Arts Center, 1855 Ansel Rd., Cleveland.

Tickets: $25-$100. Go to clevelandoperatheater.org or call 216-368-6062.

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