Lyric Opera of Chicago

A NEW BARBER IN TOWN

 
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While the world premiere of a newly composed opera can be an electrifying experience, no less exciting is the arrival of a new production of an old favorite. 


For the past quarter century Lyric audiences have seen the René Magritte-inspired, John Conklin-designed The Barber of Seville. This month Lyric unveiled a new Barber production, this one directed by Broadway’s Rob Ashford, with sets designed by Scott Pask, and costume designs by Catherine Zuber. All three made their company debuts. 

This Barber’s scenery and costumes are period inspired. The sets and the whole look of the production immediately transport you to sunny Seville in the 1700s. Even the stage floor has the look of Spanish tile. “We wanted the [Barber] sets to have the look and feel of 18th-century Seville,” says Pask who won the Tony Award: Best Scenic Design of a Musical for his work on The Book of Mormon. Pask grew up in Yuma, Arizona, studied architecture at the University of Arizona, and holds an MFA from the Yale School of Drama. “And we wanted to take advantage of the transformations [exterior to interior and vice-versa]. Rob Ashford has a background in dance, and he’s brilliant in his handling of these transformative episodes, which become part of the story telling.” 

Ashford made his Broadway dance debut in the 1987 Lincoln Center revival of Anything Goes. The Orlando native has a host of Broadway directing credits and is scheduled to direct a production of Carmen at Houston Grand Opera this spring. And he's going straight from this Barber in Chicago to choregraph the Academy Awards ceremony on March 2.

Barber’s story is simple but layered with comedic complications. The beautiful Rosina is pursued by Count Almaviva but Bartolo, Rosina’s guardian, also wants to marry her. Before it’s all over, the count has assumed several identities: 1) a guy named Lindoro, 2) a drunken soldier, and 3) a music teacher named Don Alonso. There’s a close call with Rosina feeling betrayed and almost marrying Bartolo but through it all with a good deal of help from Figaro, love finds its way. After several comedic reverses, Rosina marries the count, and Bartolo, accepting his fate, joins in the celebration of love. 

Rossini’s Barber has endured for so many years because it is a flawless coupling of a delightful story that’s full of extraordinarily human characters with Rossini’s music – straightforward, easily comprehended by the listener, and bursting with energy, joy and an unbridled sense of spontaneity. 

Here’s a production that does the work justice. 

Lyric’s new Barber production stars Nathan Gunn, Isabel Leonard, Alek Shrader, Allessandro Corbelli, and Kyle Ketelsen. Michele Mariotti conducts. Just five performances left through February 28.

Barber of Seville

Bright, Spanish-style designs characterize Scott Pask’s set of Lyric’s new Barber.

 

Barber of Seville

Set elements include a semi-circular construction of gates, archways, and a steep
staircase framed in wrought iron.

 
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New Lyric Opera Production. Generously made possible by the Gramma Fisher Foundation of Marshalltown, Iowa, the NIB Foundation, Randy L. and Melvin R. Berlin, and Margot and Josef Lakonishok.

Photos by Robert Kusel and Dan Rest.