Last evening, my oldest daughter (and mother of three young children), Sarah Arkell, and I went to the Lyric Opera of Kansas City performance of “The Barber of Seville” by Gioachino Rossini. As I have aged, I have found enjoyment not only in my mostly grown children and wife, but also in opera. But when I mention those dreaded words in our household, “Let’s go to the opera,” my wife and children politely redirect the subject to another topic as if dad were not in his right mind. So I begin by saying thank you to Sarah for being willing to attend her first opera and take in what was a very enjoyable performance of a true mainstay of the opera repertoire.
Kansas City is very fortunate to possess a regional opera company that can have the first rate musicians of the Kansas City Symphony perform with very good singers. Those who are veterans of attending performances of the Lyric Opera of Kansas City at the old Lyric Theater have to be beside themselves with the stunning visuals and acoustics of the Muriel Kauffman Theater at the Kaufmann Center for the Performing Arts. Whenever I pay for entertainment I want to leave feeling satisfied and I was immensely. In fact the only thing I was not satisfied with was the 35 minute intermission – it was just too long. “The Barber of Seville” is a very “opera-friendly” piece of music with a plot driven by “silly confusion.” The four singers who carry the show were all excellent, and a fifth was superb as well. As I made mental notes about what to say, it struck me that it was so pleasant to hear two bass voices – those of Kevin Burdette and Authur Woodley – that were so refreshingly clear. Their voices were not scratchy or garbled, and their diction very good.
For those of you who think of opera as a “foreign language that I can’t understand,” take comfort in knowing that the Muriel Kauffman Theater is equipped with a personal “ribbon board” for each seat that gives the listener a timely translation of what is being said on stage. I would imagine there is a technical name but the only way I can describe it is using the sports term, ribbon board, like what you see around the fields at soccer games. You can only view your individual panel from your individual seat. No one should be intimidated (nor use the language barrier as an excuse) to take in an opera for fear of not being able to understand it. The good news is that you can, and the interpretive system works well.
One thing that I found fascinating was a fact about the composer, Gioachino Rossini. He lived from 1792-1868 but retired from composing music in 1829 at the ripe old age of 38. He was an extremely popular composer who created 39 operas as well as sacred and chamber music. Rossini’s “Stabat Mater” is one of my favorite pieces. So why did Rossini retire so young when most of the well-known composers spend their entire lives composing music up until they die? Well, it seems that his life was a mixture of triumph in the theater and a life of seclusion. Even though he was an excellent chef and gourmand, he also struggle with physical and mental illness. He returned to musical composition late in life and wrote a 14-volume set of music mostly for the solo piano, voice, and chamber music entitled “Sins of Old Age.” Another interesting feature of Rossini’s music is that he often borrowed or plagiarized from his own music due to the demands of deadlines for productions of his operas. His last opera was “William Tell”, which is well-known for the overture – but at four hours in length, it is rarely heard in modern times.
One of the most moving arias sung last night was about scandal and how it can ruin a person’s life. Scandal can begin as a whisper and end up as a powerful cannonball exploding into a person’s life, sometimes unjustly. Other themes explored in this light comedy were the love of money, lust, and envy. It seems to me that Rossini became much more deeply religious and introspective as his life unfolded, and that is something we can all take away from “The Barber of Seville”. He adjusted and redirected his life to the final end that awaits us all.
The Lyric Opera of Kansas City puts on four productions each year, and I would encourage everyone to consider a series subscription. (You are only asked to commit to four nights per year). Opera moves people, and those who fall in love with it are passionate about it. Next year’s lineup is once again “opera-friendly” and – who knows? You may learn something new about music, history, and even yourself.