When Pepperdine does opera, they do opera.
The program’s spring production of Gioacchino Rossini’s “The Barber of Seville” is an opera of intrigues, scandals and swindles similar to a modern day soap opera.
“It’s great entertainment, whether (students have) seen an opera or not it is great entertainment,” Director Dr. Henry Price said. “They are going to recognize a lot of the music in it, if not from anything else, from Saturday morning cartoons.”
The opera, performed in English tonight and Saturday night in Smothers Theatre, centers around Figaro, the barber of Seville, who slithers his way into all the scandals about town.
“He’s the jack of all trades, the man holding the strings in all operations,” said senior Daniel Peretto, who plays the title role. “His main objective is to hook up Count Almavilla, a noble man, with Rosina, a young, pretty noble women under the guardianship of Dr. Bartolo.”
Junior Elena de Mattos plays the part of Rosina in tonight’s performance, while junior Jessica Tivens takes over the role for Saturday night’s show. Rosina is the only major female role in the male dominated opera. The only other female role is that of the housemaid Berta, also double cast with sophomore Heather Horton tonight and senior Evelyn Trester Saturday.
Junior Miguel Villahermosa plays the Count, senior Patrick Alan Casey plays Dr. Bartolo and senior Brian Speck rounds out the cast as Don Basilio, a slimey old music professor easily swayed to help in either side of the intrigues. Basilio at first seeks to aid Dr. Bartolo in his attempts to slander the Count and win Rosina for himself, but then is bribed to help the Count.
“The Barber of Seville” is the Flora L. Thornton Opera Program’s biggest production to date, the culmination of eight years of development in the program, which has went from just practicing single arias to producing full shows. With the $1 million endowment from Thornton two years ago, the program has excelled and expanded its productions. The grant has allowed Price to recruit and fund better vocal talent, improve sets and costumes and retain a full orchestra.
It is the mass of vocal talent developed within this program that allowed Price to direct “The Barber of Seville,” which he said is unheard of at the undergraduate level.
“It requires big, agile voices, and it takes years of years of training (to get to that level),” Price said. “It is just unusual that you would have the men’s voices by the age of 21 and 22.”
Going cast member by cast member, Price established the magnitude of each person’s voice.
Villahermosa has a “big, dark, masculine tenor voice, the size and weight that you would hear today on the professional opera stage.” Peretto, who has had the lead every year since he was a freshman playing the title role in “The Marriage of Figaro” shows the culmination of his musical advancement Figaro in “The Barber of Seville.” Casey “is just unbelieveable in the role of Dr. Bartolo.” Price said he sang the part “better than most of the professionals I have worked with.” Speck “just has an incredible instrument.”
“(Speck) will bring down the house with his comic aria about scandal,” Price said. “I guarantee that because he has brought down the house in smaller things before.”
Price, who performed as Count Almavilla in “The Barber of Seville” more than 100 times, gave similar lauds for the two “spectacularly talented” females playing Rosina, de Mattos and Tivens.
“I sound like a broken record,” Price said, as he rattled off the talent of each member of his cast. “I have not always been able to say this. In the past, maybe one or two have the (vocal) equipment, or maybe even three, but never everybody across the board. This time everyone across the board has amazing talent.”
The music, though challenging, is very recognizable and fun.
“Rossini is a great composer,” Peretto said. “He has this wonderful feel for music and he has this wonderfully happy, joyful exuberant music.”
The opera will feature a set specially designed by former technical director Kermit Heckert and a full orchestra led by Pepperdine University Symphony Director Dr. Thomas Osborn for the last time, as he retires this year.
Osborn said 35 musicians will fill the pit both nights.
“They are doing a good job all around, both on stage and in the pit,” he said.
The talented cast has had a great time putting the show together.
“The ensemble work is the best part, it is one thing to do a song by yourself, but to work with five other principles and a whole chorus of men is really fun,” de Mattos said.
“I think it is the most fun I’ve ever had doing any opera role,” Casey said. “It’s like being in a Looney Tunes cartoon.”
February 21, 2002