Last weekend marked the first concert-opera presentation by the Santa Cruz Symphony – Gioachino Rossini’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia. The comedy is one of the classical music world’s most popular operas, and one of the prolific Italian composer’s best-known works of art. Featuring world-class guest soloists and a powerhouse orchestra, the Symphony’s production of the opera was a musical triumph, and one that has hopefully set the stage for more to come.
Il Barbiere di Siviglia (The Barber of Seville) was originally a libretto by Cesare Sterbini, based on French playwright Pierre Beaumarchais’ Le Barbier de Séville. Although other versions of Beaumarchais’ play were composed as operas, Rossini’s adaptation became the most highly celebrated, even admired by other classical music celebrities like Verdi and Beethoven. Rossini was only 24 years old when he composed The Barber of Seville (apparently in under three weeks), and saw it produced in Italy in 1816. Since then, it has become regarded around the world as one of the greatest masterpieces of “opera buffa” (comic opera).Directed by David Paul and conducted by Daniel Stewart, the Santa Cruz Symphony’s performances made this historic opera accessible and relatable to a local, modern audience. Rossini’s two act opera was presented at the Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium and Watsonville’s Henry J. Mello Center by a group of professional opera soloists whose outstanding vocal accomplishments were matched by the strength of our resident orchestra. The performances featured international principal artists from the New York Metropolitan Opera and San Francisco Opera, some of whom have performed with SCS in the past; all of whom we hope to hear on Santa Cruz stages soon again. The cast also included local singers with soloist Stan Neff, and the Men of the Cabrillo Symphonic Chorus, under the direction of Cheryl Anderson.
The score has melodic intricacies and breathless crescendos that seem challenging balanced with the expressive physical requirements of the comedy. Yet, the soloists, Stewart, and the Santa Cruz Symphony managed the musical and theatrical mechanisms with extraordinary style, skill, and ease. Under Stewart’s guiding hand, the orchestra had a natural swing and closely timed collaboration with the singers. Despite the performances being semi-staged without full sets, the cast brought the production to life so vibrantly with their vigor and charisma that their playful impersonations and the addition of a few props were enough to visualize an Italian setting and comic events.
Rossini was quoted as saying: “The language of music is common to all generations and nations; it is understood by everybody, since it is understood with the heart.” Last weekend’s performances received waves of laughter and wholehearted standing ovations from an audience spanning all backgrounds and ages. With the Santa Cruz Symphony providing such electrifying presentations, it’s clear why even after its premier several hundred years ago, The Barber of Seville stands the test of time, remains one of the foundations of operatic repertoire, and resonates with a global, contemporary audience.
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