“Barber of Chaos”

November 8, 2012

Yes, chaos indeed. Not only in the opera but for myself. This season already started with chaos as stated in my last post, of being told that “The Barber of Seville” was traditionally staged when it really wasn’t. The theme this year for the Detroit Opera? “Drama in the D.” Drama is right! I wasn’t exactly sure how any Rossini opera would fit in with this theme, but when I heard David DiChiera (founder and general manager) speak before the performance as usual, I realized why they added a buffa to the rest of the dramatic operas that is set for the rest of the season. It was in celebration of the Detroit Opera’s 42nd season, a season in which “Dr. D” wasn’t sure would come to pass because of the great downfall the economy took on the opera house. With hard work and generous donors to preserve the Detroit Opera’s legacy, things look brighter than ever with a new season unlike any other in it’s history. In DiChiera’s wonderful speech, I felt as if a tremendous sigh of relief rolled of his shoulders (and mine too!) And in lue of this grand celebration, he announced that he would treat his guests to a cocktail party after the show with champagne and sweets!

This production of “The Barber of Seville” was, well, interesting to say the least. David DiChiera announced in his speech that the Detroit Opera needed to change with the times. He wanted to keep things interesting by doing different things and not only hopefully gain the attention of a different crowd, but give something different to his already opera goers who were tired of the usual traditional operas (which were normally rotated every four years.) But he had to come up with a compromise to his long-time patrons who never tire to see the timeless traditional operas over and over again. So the decision came down to this: half of the season (Fall) would be non-traditional and the other half (Spring) traditional. And to add to the mix to make it more exciting, three new operas never before played there- “Giulio Cesare,” Beethoven’s only opera “Fidelio” and Verdi’s Grand Opera “Aida.” I think the decisions were good for the most part.

So this way come “The Barber of Seville” hailed a wonderful Rosina, mezzo-soprano Elizabeth DeShong, best known as “Hermia” from The Met’s “The Enchanted Island!” I did not know this until about a day before. With the dress rehearsal photo that the MOH posted, I did not recognize the big voiced blonde haired woman disguised in the 1920’s black hair-do. This made me feel a lot better after the surprise of learning the time period setting. The Met’s Live in HD broadcasts are an awesome thing, I can’t imagine life without them! But as they say, it is always better to go to the opera and have the true experience whenever you can. And as much as I have watched “The Enchanted Island,” I did not realize what I was in for. DeShong dominated the stage in “Barber.” I have never witnessed a bigger voice on that stage before in all my years. The big voiced mezzo, packed with great stage presence and humor, strutted her stuff as the cunning Rosina, along with Figaro and the Count in disguise, trying to overtake her caretaker. In short, she was amazing.

The staging looked traditional with non-traditional costumes and 1920-era props here and there, like the Polyphone in Rosina’s room along with a few framed posters on the wall, of which only one I could only make out to be of Charlie Chaplin. The costumes consisted of pin-striped suits and lots of argyle sweaters. To add to the theme, were celebratory scenes were Rosina and her maid danced the Charleston. This all really wasn’t too bad, except for Figaro’s entrance of flying in on a red scooter and singing to a fountain with the water pressure responding to his singing. And then of course, as you can imagine, the “gold” money that the Count throws at Figaro is indeed not gold, but paper money. That always looses me in updated productions of any opera. I did find it very charming, though, where Rosina winds up her polyphone to play the music to “Una voce poco fa,” to which she would sing to of course. Also, that “added” song that was talked about in my last post? It was, indeed, a song included during Rosina’s music lesson as I thought. After Rosina practises the music to her new so-called opera “The Useless Precaution,” Dr. Bartolo doesn’t just tell her that real music was only “back in his day”  but sings an example…to his  lovely Rosina.  Another idea I thought ingenious. The song was “Beautiful Dreamer” by Stephan Foster, which was written in the 1800’s, and tells of a lover serenading a “Beautiful Dreamer”, who is oblivious to all worldly cares.  It really seemed to fit like a nicely tailored pair of pin-striped pants.

The real chaos of the score didn’t start until the last scene of the first act, where the regiment comes to arrest the drunkard soldier, just for “Lindoro,” to pull one on them- that his true identity is that of the Count Almaviva. With everyone stunned in confusion, there was a lot of craziness going on to say the least. Either your head was spinning, laughing at the various “activities” going the stage during the whole scene, or perhaps both. Me? Where do I start? Yes my head was spinning, actually in disbelief, probably just as much as all the character’s minds were in the opera. The whole regiment were doing different things, and at one point hailed out bright red folding fans and flickered them at themselves and each other. And as everyone was in that state of confusion, our laid back silly Figaro was lifting giant round, red barbells with 500 lbs. weights (with one hand.) It was like something you might see in an old Looney Toons cartoon. With the various activities he was doing, it reminded me of  “Where’s Waldo.” Just like he says in his “Factotum” aria, he is “here, there, everywhere”: lifting weights, then up in Rosina’s room relaxing on her chaise reading a newspaper, then interestingly enough being in the Barber’s seat on the side of the stage getting a shave. He was kind of funny in that you see Figaro doing something and then in the next moment he is doing something else, just waiting for everyone to calm down in the meantime. But, of course, it was down in a very cheesy way.

I hardly got to see the second act, as even more chaos of  my own happened again. My father got a text warning of an emergency and whispered that we had to leave. I have never left a performance before! It was a horrible feeling, as not only was I frightened, but I did want to see the rest, no matter what I thought of the production itself. The singing was still great and therefore worth staying for, especially for DeShong (not to mention the money paid to see the opera.) On the flipside, I was hoping that in leaving so early that it would give the impression that we did not like the opera, which to me, was terrible overall. (And I did notice the theater was not a full house by any means, although it was brought to my attention that it could have been because of the Tiger’s game that same night.) But as we were leaving, the ushers and women at the desk in the lobby said, “Goodbye!” and “Have a great night!” like it was not strange at all to see two very dressed-up people leaving in a rush. Kind of comical really, unless they had gotten wind of the news, which was that a torrential rainstorm was quickly approaching.  Apparently, no one else in the audience did. The storm was predicted to be so bad that the Tiger’s game that night was canceled and everyone had to leave! They never cancel a Tiger’s game! So  not only did I miss most of the second half of the opera, but the after-party too, to my dismay. It was only lightly raining out when we left, but already downtown there was chaos going on in the streets as people were trying to leave. But we got out in good enough timing to not be stuck in it and it was a smooth ride home. No torrential rainstorm happened that night though, not even a storm at all. Just light rain still. The torrential rainstorm that was predicted actually happened the next day, which also happened to be when the Tiger’s game was rescheduled! Uncanny!

The reviews on the MOH’s website were very mixed, some warning that if more productions like “Barber” would be staged, that they would stop attending altogether. It surely did not help that we were not told of the new game-plan before buying our tickets. Many people were angry. I do not like surprises like this either, and it needs to be brought to DiChiera’s attention. I can only imagine those same patron’s faces when they see “Giulio Cesare,” which is an extremely modernized production. I imagine it would be priceless. 😉

More pics coming soon…

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