By Callum Ludwig
A contemporary reimagining of a classic opera production has taken inspiration from the Yarra Ranges.
Director Priscilla Jackman is presenting her own take on Gioachino Rossini’s The Barber of Seville, but with the Upper Yarra town of Seville in mind instead of the traditional setting of the Spanish city of Seville.
Ms Jackman said Seville was a starting creative point for the production.
“For us as Aussies, we’ve got the food and wine and love and the great things and the feel-good moments in life. I discovered that we have Seville in country Victoria and suddenly we’re in that vicinity. My mum actually grew up not far from the Yarra Valley so I know it very well and love it very much,” she said.
“My designer and I just started to think about the wonderful kind of feeling you get when you walk into those cellar doors. The feeling of being on a vineyard, where again, it resembles the music, and they’re contemporary places but I wouldn’t want them to expect to come in and see Seville or necessarily recognise the Yarra Valley.”
The comedic story follows the escapades of a barber, Figaro, as he assists a nobleman named Count Almaviva in prising the beautiful Rosina away from her guardian, Dr Bartolo who wishes to marry her and get her money for himself.
Ms Jackman said in terms of the aesthetic and style, the creative team adopted the modern ‘hipster barber’ for the character of Figaro.
“It occurred to us that over the last 20 years or so there’s been a real renaissance of the Hipster Barber, these beautiful environments where you can go and have your hair cut or your beard trimmed, but you can also have a whiskey or a craft made gin,” she said.
“The heroine Rosina, is a nod to the war movement of the 1940s where women were really emancipated and able to work as mechanics or pilots. The audience will walk into the space and there will be a nod and a familiarity and a sense of humour around the style that is utterly contemporary, yet at the same time isn’t deliberately placed in one particular era.”
Joining Ms Jackman in the creative team are Conductor Luke Spicer, Set Designer Michael Scott-Mitchell, Costume Designer Sabina Myers, Lighting Designer Morgan Moroney and Orchestration Simon Bruckard.
Ms Jackman said Yarra Yering winemaker Sarah Crowe was also an inspiration for the production.
“She was the other really important link for me as a director that came around the time when we were conceiving of the whole world of our piece, she had won the top two Halliday Wine Companion Awards so it felt like the universe was pointing me in this direction,” she said.
“I started to think about who are the women behind our Australian wineries, who are the Rosinas? In the original production, Rosina is much more emancipated than you would think, particularly for a woman living 200 years ago, she talks about being a ‘self-confessed viper’ and you don’t want to get in her way.”
In a role debut for both, sopranos Esther Song and Cathy-Di Zhang will share the role of Rosina. Two of Australia’s finest young tenors, Nicholas Jones and John Longmuir, will share the role of Count Almaviva and baritones Haotian Qi and Andrew Williams will share the role of Figaro. Dr Bartolo will be played by Andrew Moran and Michael Lampard, Don Basilio/ Fiorello by Shane Lowrencev and David King and Berta by Jennifer Black and Dominica Matthews.
Opera Australia’s Artistic Director Lyndon Terracini has impressed the ongoing value the National Tour which The Barber of Seville features in has in increasing audience access to world-class performances.
“The National Tour remains a key opportunity and a great pleasure for Opera Australia to bring exceptional talent to a broad range of audiences, particularly those living in regional areas. Many of this cast are coming directly from acclaimed seasons at the Sydney Opera House and Arts Centre Melbourne to perform in a premiere production for audiences right in their hometowns,” he said.
“We are particularly thrilled to be working with a director of Priscilla Jackman’s calibre, who has created this wonderful production that brings forth the fun and frivolity of Rossini’s music.”
The running time of the production is approximately two house and 20 minutes including an interval, with the entire production performed in Italian with English supertitles. Adult tickets are available from $79.
Ms Jackman said it is very exciting to be opening, even after it was delayed from last week due to Covid.
“We were due to open last Friday [15 July], but we have had absolute ravages of Covid through the cast, including myself. I tested positive and then following me, five of our 12 singers also tested positive and eventually our conductor tested positive halfway through last week,” she said.
“Everyone has been unbelievably resilient to keep the show going and to continue to keep it up, and soldier through all week like that is more than I could have ever expected of any cast. It’s a really tight ship where everyone’s very supportive of each other.”
Yarra Ranges residents will next have their best opportunity to see the production at Bunjil Place in Narre Warren on Thursday 1 September.