ALERT: KPBS Radio is undergoing scheduled upgrade work which may result in temporary signal outages.
San Diego Opera Brings ‘Barber Of Seville’ To Drive-In
Rossini’s comic opera will be performed live at Pechanga Sports Arena parking lot
Friday, April 23, 2021
Credit: San Diego Opera
San Diego Opera is staging two outdoor drive-in shows this month: the first is its annual One Amazing Night concert and the second is the comic opera "The Barber of Seville." Both will be drive-in events at the Pechanga Sports Arena parking lot.
Opera has a reputation for being highbrow, but let’s face it, for many of us it’s the lowbrow Looney Tunes that provided our first introduction to the art form as in this 1950 cartoon called "The Rabbit of Seville.".
"The iconic reference to 'Il barbiere di Siviglia' ['The Barber of Seville'], of course, is Bugs Bunny," said Bruce Stasyna. He’ll be conducting Rossini’s opera "The Barber of Seville" for San Diego Opera this month.
"First of all, everybody knows the tunes from the get go," Stasyna added. "It's been heard and deployed in movies, soundtracks constantly."
Looney Toons recognized the comic potential of both poking fun at opera and using the brilliant music of Rossini to elevate Bug’s animated antics.
"Rossini's great comedy, and it truly is from the bel canto period, it sort of defines what comic Italian opera is in the early to middle 19th century," Stasyna said.
It’s no accident that the cunning and charismatic Bugs Bunny took on the role of the trickster Figaro who is a barber by day and wily matchmaker by night. Rossini’s opera provides exactly the type of comedy to raise our spirits as quarantine restrictions begin to lift.
"This is the champagne of opera," proclaimed baritone David Pershall. "It's light, it's bubbly. Everybody feels good after they have a glass. And so I think it's going to be a balm for all of our souls here to experience something so fun."
Pershall sings the role of Figaro, which he said was "very technically demanding."
But Pershall relies on the conductor to help him overcome the challenges.
"Bruce is very in tune with the language, with the timing of the staging. And he's very helpful," Pershall said. "Now, for those that aren't aware, the conductor's job is to get the group of musicians that are playing in the pit as accompaniment and the singers all together playing the right pitches at the right time, So it has to be timed well, not just with the voice but also with the acting. It takes a serious voice, but a lighthearted attitude. And I think that's kind of what makes this piece so difficult."
For Stasyna, the difficulty of finessing the comic timing was intensified by reduced rehearsal time and performing outdoors.
"Everybody's got to be in top shape to to to really make this music sing," he said. "I think it really has a lot to do with keeping yourself in the moment constantly. If a fire engine suddenly screams by, how is that going to interface with the characters on stage? Are they going to make an allowance for that for a moment? Are they not? Are they going to press forward? Whichever way it does go, I have to be poised and ready to adapt instantaneously."
Director Keturah Stickann proved not just ready to adapt to the costumes she was given for the opera but also inspired by them. San Diego Opera’s director David Bennett pointed out that the costumes came from a production set in the late 1960s, early '70s.
"Keturah just told the cast in a meeting that we had earlier to sort of think of television during that era," Bennett said. "And if we think of that, the strongest television moment she talked about was 'Laugh-In,' particularly the cocktail hour. So I think that world is also the world of the Beatles movies, of The Monkees, zany, lots of dancing, lots of color and funny. So this is going to be a funny, fun, zany, colorful 'Barber.'"
The outdoor setting may not provide the pristine acoustics of an indoor venue but it still creates a vital sense of community around live performance.
"So at the end of hopefully a great number, the the horns go blazing and the lights flicker on and off to to be this day and age’s applause moment and then we move forward," Statsyna said. "But there's a sense of community, which I think is an essential aspect of of how the arts work."
And if a little of Bugs Bunny’s Brooklyn accent still resonates in your brain then it’s just to prove how inclusive that opera community really is.
One Amazing Night takes place on April 24 and "The Barber of Seville" begins its four performance run on April 25. Both take place in the Pechanga Sports Arena Parking Lot.
To view PDF documents, Download Acrobat Reader.