By Matt Hickman
If everything you know about opera you learned from watching Bugs Bunny, you’re not alone. And for its season-opening offering Nov. 1-3 at the Performing Arts Center, Anchorage Opera is going right into your wheelhouse with Rossini’s ‘The Barber of Seville’.
“To me, it’s the best intro to opera — it’s fun, under two-and-a-half hours and it’s nothing but a comedy,” said Colorado-based tenor Alex DeSocio, who plays Figaro, the Barber himself. “It’s great tunes you’re going to recognize. If you’ve never seen opera before — even if you haven’t seen a lot of musicals, there’s going to be familiarity.”
At Sunday’s Take One event, where cast and crew perform snippets and discuss facets of the upcoming show for fans, DeSocio performed ‘Largo’, perhaps the most well known aria in popular culture, and later explained that cartoons were his introduction to the world of opera.
“The ‘Bunny of Seville’ overture where he’s massaging Elmer Fudd’s head — that was my first taste of classical music growing up,” the Wichita, Kan. native said. “My mother was a classically trained cellist and pianist, but Bugs Bunny was still the first one that got me into it.”
Unlike most operas, Barber is sans tragedy; rather it’s the story of two young lovers — Rosina, performed by Juliana Curcio and Count Almavina, played by Blake Friedman, whose destinies are being thwarted by the efforts of Rosina’s guardian, Dr. Bartolo, taken on by Andy Papas.
“It’s great to have that popular appeal,” Friedman said. “Alex always jokes that he heard these on Prego or Saab commercials. It’s nice to have an art form that’s been around for hundreds of years have pop culture references, too… For an audience to see where that quote-unquote cliché thing comes from… it makes it more personal for the audience as well.”
Though virtually everyone who’s done opera has done ‘Barber’, DeSocio is the resident expert, having performed it four times in the last year. Performing ‘Largo’, DeSocio played with the familiarity of the piece, almost making an over-the-top caricature of the tune at times
“Sometimes (Largo) will be in a car commercial for no reason. It’s like they’re trying to say, ‘look how classy it is,’ and with Largo, it makes sense somehow,” DeSocio said. “There’s always a problem doing arias everyone knows; you have to make your own interpretation of them, otherwise (the audience’s) brains turn off; they peak early. It’s probably like how Michael Jackson felt — that everyone knew his tunes and he had to reinvent himself.”
DeSocio said the opera is also approachable because the story is relatively uncomplicated.
“At its core, The Barber of Seville is a love story of two lovesick kids just trying to find each other,” he said. “The other main obstacle is just this old guy trying to make sure they don’t get together and everyone else is there to facilitate one side or another.”
The Anchorage Opera’s production of ‘The Barber of Seville’ runs from Nov. 1 to Nov. 3 at the Sydney Lawrence Theater. Tickets are available at https://anchorageopera.org/barber-of-seville/ or at (907) 263-ARTS.