Bold. Brave. Brilliant.

Breaking the fourth wall in Seville

Katrina Becker – February 20, 2018

“Figaro! Figaro! Fi-i-i-i-i-g-g-a-a-a-r-o!”

Whether you’re familiar with the mocking demand for Rossini’s barber from cartoons or from the stage -- or even if the baritone aria “Largo al factotum” hasn’t yet teased your ears -- Figaro’s comical lament is immediately irresistible.

The Barber of Seville is one of the few operas that’s about what happens when everyone is terrible at what they do,” says Joshua Borths. “Everyone is incompetent, and everyone is sincere.”

Borths, who serves as Arizona Opera’s Director of Education and Community Engagement, donned his alternate hat as resident stage director for the company’s upcoming performances (March 3-4 in Tucson; March 9-11 in Phoenix). He previously directed memorable new productions of Rusalka and Florencia en el Amazonas for AZO, and he’s looking forward to revisiting Barber’s early 19th-century setting with new staging.

“We’re going to be delving pretty deeply into the commedia del’arte influence on the piece -- Italian improvisation-based theater that’s migrated into the bel canto style and Bugs Bunny,” Borths explains.

“Everyone is flawed,” he continues, elaborating on commedia’s traditional characters, “and everyone wants nothing more than the audience to be on their side. There’s no fourth wall in this production.”

“Just like life, it sets up this wonderful pinball game where everyone is going after what they want in the worst way possible, and that’s where the chaos ensues,” Borths adds. “It’s what I think makes Barber of Seville Rossini’s most human comedy -- it’s about regular people just trying to get what they want out of life and get their happy ending.”

Borth’s background includes work with Seagle Music Colony, the Crested Butte Music Festival, Pensacola Opera, Wolf Trap Opera and Des Moines Metro Opera.

My résumé is about half Rossini,” says Borths. “I’ve assisted on Aureliano in Palmira in Italy, which is one of his early operas from the very early 19th century -- it’s actually where the Barber of Seville overture comes from.” He adds, “I feel a kinship to Rossini -- I just keep coming back to him and realizing his genius.”

“His music has energy and emotion, but it’s not inherently meaningful -- it’s the music with the context and with the performer, so you have to justify every note onstage,” Borths explains. “That’s Rossini’s brilliance.”

Barber is truly light and effervescent,” says Arizona Opera President and General Director Joseph Specter. “It’s a beloved, favorite opera that helps open the world of opera to a lot of new folks.”

“When people think ‘I want to take someone special to the opera for the first time,’” Specter continues, “very often they’re looking for that kind of offering -- ‘Since this is your first one, I’ll take you to Barber.’”

Borths relishes the opportunity to work with familiar voices, particularly current and returning Marion Roose Pullin Studio Artists like bass-baritone Zachary Owen (singing the role of Don Basilio), baritone Jarrett Porter (Fiorello), soprano Katrina Galka (recently Cunegonde in AZO’s Candide), tenors David Margulis and Anthony Ciaramitaro (Count Almaviva), mezzo-soprano Stephanie Sanchez (Berta) and bass-baritone Calvin Griffin (Dr. Bartolo).

With the youth of this cast it’s going to be very fresh, with a very different energy -- electric, with great physicality,” says Borths, “which is perfect for this music. Comedy is all about ensemble...it’s the most team-based art form.”

It’s worth noting that we have a soprano [Galka] and a mezzo-soprano [Stephanie Lauricella] sharing the role of Rosina, so musically they’re going to be bringing very different qualities,” he continues. “The double casting will create drastically different performances that I think will be equally thrilling,” Borths adds with a grin, “so come twice!”

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