Opera Theater of St. Louis' 'The Barber of Seville' Is Everything You Never Expected Opera to Be (And It Was Amazing)

By Krystin Arneson
In Culture

The Opera Theater of Saint Louis’ 2015 season—the institution’s 40th—kicked off with Gioachino Rossini’s classic comedy “The Barber of Seville.” One of the opera comedy canon’s favorite go-tos, this “Barber” production—which centers on a romantic triangle aided along by what seemed to be one of showbiz’s first gay best friends, Figaro—was an anachronistic, trippy twist on the original, featuring witty humor, smoking nuns with flasks hidden in their garters, a chorus of bobbleheaded (why not?) Wes-Anderson-y police who shut down the fun and enough confetti for a drag show. And it was fabulous.

"The Barber of Seville," courtesy Laura Heying.

“The Barber of Seville” still by Ken Howard, courtesy of Opera Theatre of St. Louis.


First things first, though: The opera’s tradition of pre-show picnicking. Guests caught the last of the evening sun and discussed the upcoming performance seated at tables scattered across the blooming theater’s lawn. Maggie Stearns, the national press representative and publications director for Opera Theatre, said, “The fact that we get here at all is my favorite part of opening night. Nobody knows how complicated the opera business is—it isn’t just hiring the singer, or the symphony, or putting the scenery together. It’s that whole assemblage of detail … opera is astonishing. We’re trying to create magic here—and we often do, and we’re proud of that.”

And it was magical indeed. The production—a complete re-imagining of the classic love-triangle-driven plot, now set in 20th-century Spain—was spectacular, and the audience was kept laughing as the performers brought the characters to life in new and unexpected ways. Figaro was a star wingman/gay best friend. A sassy maid stole the show with her plethora of wardrobe changes.


Don Basilio was a disco freak; roosters inhabited trippy nightmare sequences….

(so many roosters)…

…and tongue-in-cheek humor kept the audience in actual stitches—not just polite titters. A repeated, urgent “Let us tiptoe down the ladder and then quickly run away!” from characters trapped in a tower was drawn out to five minutes (at least) of self-aware, hyperbolized operatic melodrama and then ended with…the ladder being gone.

Of course, opera is nothing without disguises, and there were plenty of them. But we won’t spoil the fun here. All in all, it was a slap-happy, stellar good time, and with everything in English, not a cheeky line was missed. Further summary?

Opera newcomer, returning visitor, reluctant convert (just you wait): It’s the most fun you can have with a stage without being on it and is easily one of the year’s can’t-miss shows. Semi-regular performances run until June 17 with a finale on June 27.

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