Tacoma Opera often makes use of Pacific Northwest talent for its productions. For Rossini’s The Barber of Seville, opening Friday at the Pantages, all of the principal performers have been drawn from Puget Sound country.
“We have a focus on using singers from the Northwest wherever possible,” explains Tacoma Opera’s general director, Kathryn Smith.
Smith is a Northwest native, although she came to Tacoma from the other side of the country. Originally from Seattle, Smith was a member of the Metropolitan Opera artistic administration department for six years before accepting the offer to helm the Tacoma organization in 2003.
“Coming back to the area was very attractive,” Smith says.
The directorship of Tacoma Opera isn’t the only thing that has changed since the turn of the millennium. Originally known for performing classic pieces in English translation, Tacoma Opera has been performing many shows in their original languages since 2001. Why?
There are actually several reasons, Smith explains. Most foreign language operas are physically easier to sing in their original languages, and, Smith adds, “I think that they ‘sing better’ in the language in which they were written.”
In keeping with Tacoma Opera’s current language preference, Barber of Seville is being performed in Italian, accompanied by projected “supertitles,” which actually, Smith believes, “provide better comprehension.” That is common when foreign language operas are performed in English. (This season’s Orpheus in the Underworld, however, WAS sung in English.)
Tacoma Opera was formed in 1968 and has presented operas that range from classics such as Tosca and La Boheme to rarely seen titles, some of which have been staged at alternative venues. The company consistently draws audiences from as far away as British Columbia and Oregon.
But what brought The Barber of Seville to Tacoma in 2008? As popular and familiar as the opera is, it hasn’t been performed in Tacoma for more than 12 years, Smith says. It also presents a stylistic change-of-pace for the company for its 2007-2008 season.
“[Barber of Seville] represents kind of a nice break,” Smith explains. “We’ve been doing a lot of tragedies.”
And Barber of Seville is definitely not a tragedy. Set to often lively music, the opera follows the exploits of Seville’s self-celebrating barber, Figaro — a character who literally sings his own praises. Everybody shares secrets with their barbers, and this barber is only too happy put what he learns to work.
As a production, The Barber of Seville has held up for the past 191 years, Smith says, “because it is a really great piece. Our job is to make it extremely funny and to do it as the composer intended.”
Barber of Seville also stands out somewhat regarding matters of “scale.” Compared with some works of grand opera, this production tells its comic tale with a relatively small cast. The show includes seven principals and 11 chorus members.
“Compared to Carmen, it’s tiny,” Smith says.
The setting too — Tacoma’s Pantages Theater — although not exactly small, is considered relatively “intimate” as an opera venue, Smith explains. In such a setting, “believability becomes even more appropriate, so we try to cast singers who are physically ‘right’ for their roles. Members of the Northwest-based cast include Morgan Smith as Figaro, Ross Hauck as Count Almaviva, and Jessica Robins Milanese as Rosina.
[Pantages Theater, The Barber of Seville, March 7-8 8 p.m., March 9 2 p.m., $24-$78, 901 Broadway, Tacoma, 253.627.7789]