This is not your grandfather’s “The Barber of Seville.” Cinematic and razor-sharp, the inspired Opera Theatre of St. Louis season opener “pops.”
If you only know this music through the classic Bugs Bunny parody or have previously been intimidated by the art form, Gioachino Rossini’s most popular opera is a perfect start. It’s both loony and tuneful, with a fetching Hollywood-style romantic plot. The 1816 comic opera has been refreshed in an English translation by Kelley Rourke, commissioned this year by Opera Theatre.
Visionary director Michael Shell has upped the entertainment quotient by immersing the entire work in pop culture influenced by Oscar-winning director Pedro Almodovar (”All About My Mother,” “Talk to Her”), who rose to prominence during Spain’s cultural renaissance post-Franco. And it’s fantastic.
A sensory delight of fashions and decor is captivating as an homage to Almodovar’s foreign-language movies, such as “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown.” The same color palette for the unusual set design by Shoko Kamara and bright and brassy costumes by Amanda Seymour pulls it all together. A special shout-out to wig and makeup designer Tom Watts for his flair.
The principals are equally strong in voice and acting, eight making impressive mainstage debuts here. Jonathan Beyer’s Figaro is a vigorous, dashing character. He strikes a good pose and was a sturdy ringleader of this show turned up a notch as a farce.
He helps lovestruck Count Almaviva (tenor Christopher Tiesi) get the girl of his dreams, instead of her guardian Bartolo (Dale Travis), with greed utmost on his mind.
Mezzo-soprano Emily Fons is a spunky thoroughly modern Rosina, no longer a helpless maiden holding out for Mr. Right instead of an arranged suitor.
Stealing the show is Jeoncheol Cha, hilarious as the music teacher Basilio. Another comic role is housekeeper Berta, sassily played by Eliza Johnson.
Conductor Ryan McAdams fluidly keeps the pace, and the orchestra expertly interprets the pleasing melodies with gusto.
Shell’s brio, McAdams’ assertiveness, a spirited creative team and a vivacious ensemble elevate this work. Bubbly like champagne, this production is a perfect summer confection -- cohesive, clear and amusing.
“The Barber of Seville”
Who: Opera Theatre of St. Louis
When: Seven more performances through June 27
Where: Loretto-Hilton Center, 130 Edgar Road, St. Louis
Box Office: 314-961-0644