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Opera NH brings “Barber of Seville” to Palace Theatre
For many people of a certain age, their introduction to opera came not through a music teacher, but an animated bunny brandishing an electric shaver.
“Rabbit of Seville,” released in 1950 and featuring Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd, has stood the test of time, ranking 12th in a 1994 survey of animation professionals of the greatest cartoons ever made.
The staying power of this cartoon, however, isn’t nearly as impressive as that of the comedic opera from which it drew its gags and music. Gioachino Rossini’s “The Barber of Seville,” first performed in 1816, has been an audience favorite for almost two centuries and is one of the most frequently staged operas worldwide.
Thanks to the efforts of Opera New Hampshire, Granite State audiences will have the chance to experience this crowd-pleasing classic, performed by European touring company Teatro Lirico D’Europa, at 2 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 3, at the Palace Theatre, 80 Hanover St., Manchester.
Faith A. Wilson, executive director of Opera New Hampshire, said many people mistakenly believe opera to be boring and difficult to understand.
“The story that is told comes out through the body language, costumes and actors,” she said.
To further facilitate comprehension, attendees are invited to arrive an hour before the performance for a prelude, in which William Carey, a voice coach and Opera New Hampshire board member, will set the stage for the audience.
“He’s just extremely knowledgeable and a wealth of information, not just about this particular show, but about opera in general,” Wilson said.
Several of the principal performers will be present to answer questions, particularly those from students, who have the opportunity to attend a free performance through Opera New Hampshire’s children’s opera program.
During the performance, English supertitles will be projected above the stage’s curtain to help audiences understand the opera’s Italian lyrics.
Eyes will likely be glued to the stage itself, however, with audiences captivated by the chaos that ensues when Figaro, the barber of Seville, tries to help his former employer, Count Almaviva, outsmart Dr. Bartolo and woo the doctor’s ward, the lovely Rosina.
Highlights of the opera include Figaro’s fast-paced aria “Largo al factotum” (more commonly known as “Figaro, Figaro, Figaro”) and an onstage shaving scene just as wacky as Bugs and Elmer’s.
After the performance, a reception with light refreshments will be held, followed by a post-reception event at which audience members can meet the performers, who will be in full costume.
Opera New Hampshire aims to provide the complete operatic experience not only for the adults and older students who attend the performances, but to elementary school students who are too young to sit through an entire production.
Founded in 1974, 11 years after the founding of Opera New Hampshire, the children’s opera program offers a scaled-down performance that travels to local elementary schools.
This service is currently provided by Just Love to Sing, a New Hampshire-based educational opera and musical theater company under the direction of Jane Cormier.
“Rather than having a whole entourage, they have one or two characters,” Wilson said.
The performers do appear in costume, which the students find “spellbinding,” she said.
Unlike a traditional opera production, this performance is fully interactive.
“When Jane brings it into the schools, she definitely gives them an opportunity to have participation,” Wilson said. “She also gets the teachers involved, which the kids get a huge kick out of.”
Feedback from those who have participated in the program has been quite positive.
“I love getting the letters from the kids,” Wilson said. “And sometimes, they actually draw little characters from the performance.”
A limited number of slots are available each year. Interested schools are encouraged to email Wilson at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Those who enjoy “The Barber of Seville” will be pleased to know that the final production of Opera New Hampshire’s 2012-13 season will be Mozart’s “The Marriage of Figaro” at 4 p.m. Sunday, March 3, also at the Palace Theatre.
“The Marriage of Figaro,” another frequently performed opera and a comedic success in its own right, is also the sequel to “The Barber of Seville,” focusing on the commotion that ensues when Count Almaviva, now wedded to Rosina, decides to pursue Figaro’s fiance, Susanna, and prevent her from marrying Figaro.
“A lot of folks don’t realize that, so we thought it was a great way to continue the plot,” said Wilson, who named these operas as her favorites. “The two of them being performed within a month of each other is something very special for our patrons.”
The attendance at Opera New Hampshire’s performances suggests many Granite Staters consider opera in general to be special, and Wilson hopes more and more people will take advantage of the organization’s offerings.
“I personally feel that, in an age where social media and the land of the virtual is ever-present, that live arts are a vital piece to the community,” she said. “It brings a culture and social aspect to the community that cannot be replaced by video.”
– Teresa Santoski
Originally published Jan. 31, 2013 in The Telegraph, Nashua, NH.