Ready to Rollick

SFO’s ‘The Barber of Seville’ delivers laughter and beautiful music from start to finish

The fun never stops in this year’s production of The Barber of Seville, thanks to its incredible ensemble: Emily Fons (Rosina), Kevin Burdette (Dr. Bartolo), Jack Swanson (Count Almaviva), Murrella Parton (Berta), Joshua Hopkins (Figaro), Nicholas Newton (Don Basilio). (Curtis Brown for the Santa Fe Opera)

In his prelude talk for the July 2 opening night of The Barber of Seville, opera lecturer Oliver Prezant began by asking attendees how many times they had seen Gioachino Rossini’s opera: One? Two? Six?

Widely regarded as one of the most popular operas of all time, Rossini’s opera buffa—comic opera—has been in near constant rotation since its rocky premiere in 1816.

But even those who have not seen The Barber of Seville before will recognize much of its music from popular culture, such as the aria “Largo al factotum” in a Tom & Jerry cartoon and the 1950s-era, “Bugs Bunny at the Symphony II: ‘Rabbit of Seville.’” The overture appears in numerous films and even makes its way onto a Seinfeld episode (“The Barber,” naturally).

For this production, to quote Prezant again, “fun is the watchword.” From start to finish, the inventive use of set and costumes; the skill and energy of the ensemble cast; and a high-octane orchestra under the direction of conductor Iván López-Reynoso, making a fantastic US debut, coalesce into three fast-moving hours of two acts filled with hilarity and extraordinary performances.

A little back story: The Barber of Seville is the first of three plays written in 1775 by French author/watchmaker/spy Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais concerning Figaro, all of which were adopted into operas (SFO’s 2021 season included Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro; the third, The Guilty Mother, by composer Darius Milhaud, from the late 1960s gets a lot less play).

In The Barber of Seville, Count Almaviva (tenor and former SFO apprentice Jack Swanson) sees a beautiful girl, Rosina (soprano and former SFO apprentice Emily Fons), disguises himself as a student (he wants to be loved for himself) and follows her to Seville. There he meets up with his former valet Figaro (baritone Joshua Hopkins), a barber in town, who tells him Rosina is the ward of grouchy old Doctor Bartolo (bass Kevin Burdette). From there, Almaviva asks Figaro to help him entreat Rosina away from Bartolo, who controls her movements and wants to marry her as well.

Figaro’s help involves a series of increasingly farcical scenarios. Almaviva also ends up posing as a soldier and a music teacher. The lies—from all the characters—mount. It’s a comedy, so they are all resolved in the end. In the meantime, bel canto reigns supreme, with every manner of embellishment throughout.

Scenic and Costume Designer Andrew D. Edwards, in his SFO debut, matches the opera’s wit with his own. Anachronistic touches add to the show’s hilarity, such as when imitating a student, Swanson wears a University of Sevilla hoodie. Other props include cell phones, a vacuum cleaner and headphones. The set itself features a topiary mustache and a bust of Rossini whose eyes and mouth serve as windows and the front door. There’s a lot of fun with wigs. There’s a mariachi kickline. There’s a bubble machine.

Director Stephen Barlow and his cast should take credit for much of the production’s uproariousness. Individually, and as a group, the performers utilize precise comic timing in a highly physical show. That goes for Swanson, Fons, Hopkins and Burdette, along with former SFO apprentice bass-baritone Nicholas Newton as Don Basilio (Ryan Speedo Green will perform the role for most of August in his SFO debut) and soprano/SFO apprentice Murrella Parton as a maid in the Bartolo home.

Speaking on the SFO’s Destination Santa Fe opera podcast, former SFO apprentices Swanson and Fons talked about their deep experience playing these roles before, but also the incredible importance of the ensemble dynamic.

“You have to put so much trust in your colleagues to help you pull off these comic moments,” Fons said. “It’s so much not about you anymore.” Rather, individual performers, she says, “set aside” their egos “to build this really amazing ensemble show so that the audience hopefully just gets enthralled and caught up in the comedy and the ensemble aspect of it.”

That was certainly the case for opening night, although truth be told Burdette is a bit of a scene stealer and an incredible physical actor who appears, at times, to be made of rubber. He sings one aria while performing yoga.

Whether this is your first or your sixth time seeing The Barber of Seville, don’t miss this production.

The Barber of Seville

8:30 pm, July 8, 13

8 pm, Aug. 1, 6, 10, 20, 26

Tickets: $44—$376, subject to change. Standing room for $15

First-time NM residents are eligible for a 40% discount; call the box office at (505)986-5900 or (800)280-4654. Day-of discounts are available to students, seniors, military.

There’s plenty of other fun to be had at the opera as it kicks off its 65th season and first full post-pandemic season, with five operas running through Aug. 27. The opera’s prelude talks and tours also return, with reservations required.


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