Whether or not you're fluent in Italian, it won't be a problem during the Juneau Lyric Opera's presentation of "The Barber of Seville" over the next two weekends at Juneau-Douglas High School. For the first time in Juneau arts history, audiences will be able to follow the script through supertitles - subtitles projected above the stage with a simple laptop setup.
"Oftentimes when people are singing, you can probably catch up to 75 percent of what they're saying even if you're a fluent speaker of the language being sung," music director William Todd Hunt said. "With the technology we have available to us now, people can enjoy not only what the composer wrote, but hear it in the original language."
"Barber of Seville" plays at 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, April 22-23 and 29-30. The opera runs about two and a half hours, with a 15-minute intermission. The supertitles will be displayed as two lines of type on the proscenium arch above the stage. Opera volunteer Peter Anderegg has been working on the projection.
Hunt's 25- to 28-piece Amalga Chamber Orchestra will play Gioacchino Antonio Rossini's 1816 "Barber" opera from the pit in front of the stage. This is the orchestra's fourth production since forming two years ago.
"It's very different from what players are used to doing in this town," Hunt said. "It's from a period we call Bell Canto, a style where the signer tends to reign supreme and everything is built around what the voice does. The orchestra is there to support that, and let it's own voice be heard every once in a while.
"There's often times where the singer will stop, and do a huge florid run, and the orchestra will stop and kick back up with what they were doing before," he said. "From the orchestra's perspective, I'm sure it seems absolutely crazy."
Rossini premiered his opera of "Barber," under the name, "The Vain Precaution," at the Argentina Theatre in Rome in February 1816.
Giovanni Paisiello wrote the original opera in 1782 and was still alive when Rossini's debuted. Paisello's followers sabotaged Rossini's premier, but it's gone on to be one of the best known comic operas of all time.
Rossini and Paisello's operas were both based on the play, "The Barber of Seville," by the French dramatist Caron De Beaumarchais and was first performed in 1775.
The story takes place in Seville in the 17th century. Act I begins with Count Almaviva (Jay Query) desperately in love with Rosina (Kathleen Wayne), the rich ward of Dr. Bartolo (Philippe Damerval).
The wealthy count pretends to be Lindoro, a poor student, so that Rosina would not be influenced by his rank. He begins to sing to her, but is interrupted by Figaro (Dr. David Miller), the dashing, charismatic barber of Seville. Later in the act, the count and Figaro overhear Bartolo's plan to marry Rosina for her money. The barber advises the count to dress as a drunken soldier, and demand military housing in Bartolo's home as a way of being closer to Rosina.
In Act II, Rosina is swept up in thoughts of Lindoro and determined to avoid Bartolo's schemes. She turns to Figaro for help, while Bartolo and Don Basilo (Paul Shipper), Rosina's music teacher, concoct their own machinations.
"If you look at the original play by Beaumarchais, it was a controversial play where the superiority of nobility was put in question," Damerval said. "The idea with 'The Barber of Seville' is that the count is belittling himself instead of coming and claming his right, which he could do. He outranks everyone else in the play.
"The emphasis is placed on the fact that lovers should marry and be happy, not that the count should win everything because he's the count," he said. "That idea was pretty new to the audience that Beaumarchais intended it for. Beaumarchais was almost hanged for this. ... At the time, a noble had absolute right of life and death."
Beaumarchais' characters are inspired by the Italian tradition of commedia dell'arte, Damerval said. Figaro is comparable to commedia's Harlequin, a smooth jokester who resolves conflicts and turns wrongs into rights. Bartolo is similar to Pantalone, a suspicious and aging miser.
"It's definitely been challenging for some and difficult for the rest," Damerval said. "Rossini's style is very much an Italian style. He has some very fast and acrobatic parts that utterly fail if you try to do them in English, because English is more flowing than Italian, which is more jagged in execution. The music is so inherently Italian that any other language would have been difficult to adapt to."
'The Barber of Seville'
Juneau Lyric Opera
When: 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, April 22-23 and 29-30.
Where: Juneau-Douglas High School Auditorium.
Tickets: Hearthside books and at the door.
Director Terry Cramer, a longtime theater volunteer in town, grew up listening to the Metropolitan Opera on the radio. This is the first major opera she's directed.
"The way I work with stage actors is to explore together what the physical world and the movement might be," Cramer said. "That's less useful with the singers, because you need to be aware of sending out sound to the audience and physically overextending somebody who is using all of their breath to sing tricky high notes."
This is the first Juneau opera production for Miller (Figaro), though he's lived here for three years and is no stranger to the genre. He's performed with the Anchorage Civic Opera. He's been holding off on Juneau projects until establishing his medical practice.
Shipper, a resident of New York City, has joined the cast for the role of Don Basillo. Cramer recruited Shipper through a friend at Cornell University, where he performed in a 2003 presentation of Jean-Baptiste Lully's "Le Carnaval Mascarade."
The Lyric Opera desperately needed a bass for the role of Basillo, and Shipper has performed or recorded more than 20 baroque opera bass roles.
Designer Stephen Gifford, a recent graduate of the New York University design program and a friend of Juneau native and longtime Perseverance Theatre volunteer Art Rotch, built the set out of tall strips of luan wood. The light material helps bounce sound out toward the audience, which allows the singers to perform without microphones.
Korry Keeker can be reached at email@example.com.