Classic Italian opera 'Barber of Seville' the original sitcom

By Rebecca Godwin, Daily Arts Writer
Published November 13, 2013

When given the choice between watching an opera and a sitcom, most people would choose the sitcom. But according to Associate Professor and Opera Director in the School of Music, Theatre & Dance, Robert Swedberg, the upcoming production of “The Barber of Seville” by Gioacchino Rossini and Cesare Sterbini, which Swedberg is directing, is quite similar to a popular TV comedy.

The Barber of Seville

Thursday at 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m.
Power Center
From $22

“The story itself is characters that are based on the ‘commedia dell’arte’ background from the Italian comedies,” Swedberg said. “But you may relate to how they are used in sitcoms, kind of like ‘Seindfeld.’ ”

The show details the story of Count Almaviva as he falls in love with Rosina, the pretty and young ward of the elderly Dr. Bartolo. However, there is a hitch in the Count’s plan when it is discovered the doctor intends to marry Rosina himself. The count enlists the help of Figaro and what follows is a hilarious story of deception and confusion. Despite the opera being over 200 years old, Swedberg explained how parallels could be drawn between the cast of characters and popular modern comedic characters.

“Imagine that Jerry Seinfeld is a character like Figaro: He’s smart, he’s cunning, he’s got the brilliant ideas. Then, the Dr. Bartolo character is similar to George Costanza, often angry, often bizarre in his own individual way,” Swedberg explained. “And then this Rosina character is pretty similar to Elaine, so we know these characters from sitcoms.”

The show has been translated into English for past performances, but this particular performance will be performed in the original Italian. “The reason we perform in Italian is because that is the original language of the piece, and it’s actually a more beautiful language to sing in,” Swedberg said.

However, to make the show more accessible to a wider audience, the English translations will be projected over the stage so the audience can follow along with the show. Several other touches have been added as well to make the show feel more modern.

“You’ll see in the set design and the costumes, there are some elements that are more contemporary,” Swedberg said.

One example of an added contemporary element that can be seen is the implementation of a QR code, the square symbol that can be scanned by smartphones to bring you to a link, for Rossini made into tiles around the edge of the set.

Swedberg said fans of the opera will have the opportunity to watch the show performed with two separate casts, which is common in the opera program because the MT&D wants to give as many students as possible an opportunity to perform these roles. While the idea of sharing a role may be strange to some, the actors are strongly encouraged to come up with unique characterizations for their own individual part instead of working collaboratively.

“Early in the rehearsal process, when we lay out the staging, both actors in a role get the same staging, but they’re encouraged to develop their own characterizations,” Swedberg explained. “And sometimes we’ll discover a bit that one cast will do, and we’ll share it with the other cast if it is something we want to incorporate into the production itself.”

If opera doesn’t interest you much, perhaps the athleticism of the performers will draw you in. The full show is to be performed with an acoustic orchestra and none of the performers will have microphones, meaning they will use the power of their voices alone to fill the Power Center.

“This is really hard stuff to sing. So you can be really impressed by the singing as an athletic event,” Swedberg said.

It is well known that there is a strong stereotype about opera that claims it is only for the elite rather than the masses, but Swedberg hopes this doesn’t deter people from coming to the show.

“I think that people often don’t understand that they’re going to have a good time at an opera,” Swedberg said. “There are so many stereotypes that are associated with opera, but the operatic experience can be the ultimate culmination of all the various art forms.”

As for what Swedberg hopes people take from the show? He simply wants the audience “to be entertained and have a good evening in the theater.” And what could be better than watching a sitcom brought to life before your eyes?