Figaro. Almost everyone knows that name; it's on restaurant signs, T-shirts, cheesy Italian-anything chains. It's also the name of one of the most recognizable characters in opera, Gioachino Rossini's mischievous Barber of Seville. Bugs Bunny even starred in a Chuck Jones' 1950 theatrical short called Rabbit of Seville.
Known for causing a ruckus, Figaro and the rest of the hilarious bunch from The Barber of Seville are part of an operatic masterpiece that has remained popular since Rossini debuted it in 1816.
"It's popular because it is a love story that's hilarious, entertaining and energetic," says Martile Rowland, founder and artistic director of the Opera Theatre of the Rockies, now in its 13th year.
First performed nearly two centuries ago, the opera has continued to find its way to pop culture. Didn't notice Figaro's influence in the opening of Mrs. Doubtfire? Watch it again. Even Woody Woodpecker has channeled Figaro.
"It's one of the top five produced operas in the world and it's our first time performing it," adds Rowland, likening the singularity of the work to that of medical professions. "While many have the title of doctor, they all have specialties, like pediatrics. Those are the performers we had to find, the Rossini specialists."
Finding the proper expertise to complete Rowland's vision took awhile. "We normally highlight the state's talent, but we needed the vocal beauty and memory of specialists. We got the best people possible, some of them have performed their roles all over the world, and together they illuminate and respect the original."
The cast is a mix of Coloradans and visitors — including Metropolitan Opera baritone Lee Gregory as Figaro — with up-and-coming stage director Michael Shell taking the reins. "He is wonderful, he knows how to bring out the absurdity and tenderness of each character," says Rowland of the director.
In addition, on February 25, OTR training program graduate Regina Davis will sing selections from the work for Opera Theatre of the Rockies Goes to School, an outreach program that aims to increase students' and teachers' knowledge of opera. The program focuses on the historic and cultural aspects of the work, as well as how the words on the page are brought to life in performance.
"I think the live Metropolitan Operas shown in movie theaters have educated people a lot about opera and made it more accessible to audiences," notes Rowland, who made her own Metropolitan Opera debut in the early '90s. "What people quickly find out about opera is that it elaborately involves dance, theater, orchestra and singing; it's a spectacle."
Rowland sees Rossini's work as a perfect way to get that message across to the uninitiated. "In The Barber of Seville, no one dies but everyone laughs. It is a great introduction to opera for anyone who believes they already know what opera is."
Figaro spends the two acts attempting to bring two lovers together but, in grand fashion, various obstacles are in the way.
In addition to a zero-death policy on stage, The Barber of Seville provides energizing music and frequently hysterical situations. As Rowland puts it, "It's our tribute to making life more fun these days."