I have become quite a fan of the St. Louis Symphony's periodic "Music You Know" concerts, sponsored by the Whitaker Foundation. The series got off to a rocky start last November but quickly righted itself this past March. As David Robertson and the orchestra clearly demonstrated at this past Friday's concert, the series has settled into a very polished and pleasing groove.
Stage director Michael Shell, conductor Ryan McAdams, and the cast of Opera Theatre of Saint Louis' "Barber of Seville" can all congratulate themselves on a job well done. Kelley Rourke's translation/adaptation of the original libretto and Mr. Shell's visual concepts take a few liberties as they move the action up to (roughly) the mid-1960s, but I felt that none of them violated the intentions of either the original opera or, for that matter, the Beaumarchais play that started it all. The result it a loopy, slightly surreal, and highly engaging take this comic opera classic.
Opera Theatre of St. Louis opens its 2015 festival season with Rossini's popular comic opera "The Barber of Seville" on Saturday, May 23. The production, which will run through June 27, will alternate with three other operas on the main stage of the Loretto-Hilton Center on the Webster University campus.
As René Spencer Saller points out in her program notes for these concerts, the legendary violinist/composer Niccolò Paganini was the early 18th century equivalent of a modern rock star, with an extravagant talent and matching lifestyle.
Rossini’s romantic comedy La Cenerentola, based in part on the classic fairy tale Cinderella, was your prototypical rush job. He threw it together in three weeks at the end of 1816 when the libretto he was supposed to set was rejected by the Papal Censor. By way of contrast, mezzo Abigail Fischer spent months learning the elaborate flourishes of the title role for the current Union Avenue Opera production.