Dueling Barbers – A conversation with Petite Opera’s two Figaros

The Shavers Most In Favor–Johnny Boehlefeld and Gabriel DiGennaro– discuss the role of Figaro in Petite Opera’s
Barber of Seville Nov 4-19

Petite Opera’s Executive Director, Susan Baushke, sat down with the performers double-cast as Barber of Seville’s lllustrious character Figaro: Gabriel DiGennaro and Johnny Boehlefeld.  Both performers discussed their take on the character of Figaro, the uniqueness of this particular production and working with Petite Opera.

Gabriel DiGennaro
portrays Figaro
Nov 4, 11, 17, 19
What do you like about the character of Figaro?
What really appeals to me about Figaro is his ability to stay optimistic and go with the flow.  He rarely ever appears defeated, or even appears to feel defeat.  While he is attracted to money and that lifestyle,  in the end, whatever he ends up with he will embrace and enjoy.  I think its a very healthy, sustainable, way to live!  He does a little of everything, similar to a modern, self-employed, freelancer, which mirror the life of today’s artist.  Even though employment could be temporary, he never lets that get to him.

Figaro has a lot of energy and he is always trying to be one step ahead. Those are the most endearing things about the character.  
What appeals to the audience about Figaro?

Johnny Boehlefeld
portrays Figaro
Nov 5, 10, 12, 18

He appeals because he is guiding the story and he is their avenue into the story. He is outside of the romance, he invites the audience to look at it from his point of view.
What does Figaro think of the Count and the whole plot he enrolls Figaro in?
He is driven by money to enter the story.  But as the opera proceeds, the Count often throws things at him, requiring Figaro to fix them.  The Count is goofy, love-struck and distracted. Figaro can tolerate those challenging aspects of the situation because the money is good.  I would equate it to taking some rather unsavory gigs as a performer in today’s world—perhaps where the piano is out of tune, the music selection is ho-hum, but we can deal with it.  I would say there is no ill will on Figaro’s part in having to handle these things; he and the Count are of a similar age and different rank, but Figaro doesn’t take that as a barrier. Figaro sees no barriers with anything. 

Figaro thinks the Count is a bit dense, a clod and a whiner, but he is sincere in seeking Rosina. He thinks that Rosina needs someone her own age to marry, not Bartolo. Bartolo needs to get over himself, so Figaro’s involvement is welcome to all, and he enjoys it.
What does Figaro think of Bartolo, Rosina and the whole circumstance?
Gabriel DiGennaro, portraying Figaro,
inviting patrons around town to Barber of Seville
at Park Ridge Wine Styles.

As a servant, he doesn’t like being told what to do, so he can relate to Rosina’s situation where she is stuck into something she doesn’t want.  He is motivated to help Rosina out of her situation, and help the Count, so his involvement is a win-win.

Figaro thinks Bartolo is a foolish old man and Rosina seems like a sweet, nice girl, who is always polite.  He thinks the idea of Bartolo marrying Rosina is ridiculous, but he’s seen it happen so many times before. It isn’t a surprise; so he comes in, does his work, rolls his eyes and moves on.  He is aware, but not engaged in the situation until the Count employs him to help win Rosina.  Let’s just say that resolving the situation is not on Figaro’s radar until the beginning of the opera when he’s employed to help.

What has Figaro’s relationship been with Bartolo?
He shaves Bartolo, pulls his teeth, but wouldn’t prefer to grab a beer with him.  But he’ll happy take the money Bartolo pays him.  He enjoys interacting with Rosina, as a kindred spirit. Figaro is an eternal optimist.

He’s a paid employee.  For the most part, he does his work, and leaves.  Bartolo has not endeared himself to Figaro to engage in anything beyond his traditional duties.
How are you distinguishing “Figaro, the optimist” as you would play him in 2017, versus of the character portrayal of the early 1800’s, required for this production?
When emotions are boiled down to their purist form, they ring true no matter time period.  Happiness, anxiety, and fear, are timeless.  The oppressive situation/force working against you—well, that changes. Today, the oppressive force could be managing your identity on social media; in the early 1800’s, it was the unbreakable social hierarchy.  Either way, there are external forces the characters deal with outside of themselves. Because of the differences in the times, mannerisms are different between the two time periods. Language differences are addressed with our translations. But emotions and attitudes like optimism, freedom and ultimately love, they are not “trendy”… they’re universal.

The physicality is different in our time, more relaxed and informal.  Figaro would be more indignant now than he appears.
What do you think about this version (dialogue vs. recitative)?
It is engrossing and captivating.  It sounds different, but will keep audience’s listening fresh and engaged.  I also think it is a really smart way to break up what can become a monotonous production of Barber of Seville, since many patrons have seen it, and they expect things.  Bringing Rossini into the show as a character makes patrons observe the opera characters through a different lens, and gives them a chance to see past the catchy melodies, and step out of watching the show, and relate more to the characters as humans, and as Rossini’s creations.

Johnny Boehlefeld (2nd from left) portraying Figaro, 
along with cast members Brett Potts, (far left),
Liana Gineitis (center), Rossini (on platform) 
and Eric McConnell (seated, right)


It makes it more relatable to people who are used to seeing musical theatre. It lowers one of the barriers to what some people think of with opera, since it has spoken dialogue.  It allows accessibility. 
What do you think about working Petite Opera?
I’m excited to have the opportunity to work with this group. Petite Opera cultivates a wonderful community with the people they hire… directors, music director, singers, staff… there seems to be a really supportive layer of collaboration and positivity.  This is not a cut-throat company that makes you prove yourself; this is a company that encourages you to do your best with support and care, versus with fear. The fact that the company has been in existence or 10 years—whereas as other companies ebb and flow, appear and disappear—artists and patrons are catching on to the approachable style and mission of the company.  This style of this Barber is a very “Petite Opera” thing to do. 

It has been a good experience.  I have enjoyed working with Petite Opera.  Its a different experience to sing in English.  English makes the acting choice easier because we are communicating in our native language. 
How were you familiar with Petite Opera?
I have been acquainted with Petite Opera for quite a while.  I saw their recent adaptation–Magic Flute 3.0–as well as last year’s production, Assassins. I’ve known a lot of the performers who have worked with Petite Opera in the past, and they always have good things to say about the company. I love that Petite does its own translations and adaptations. Many companies focus on verismo style opera, “big sings” and new works, but Petite Opera has found its unique voice and niche in the community.  It creates very clever and applicable adaptations of classical repertoire in ways that today’s audience can really relate to.  People will understand Magic Flute in its classic form, but adapting it with a science fiction backdrop (as in 2015’s Magic Flute 3.0: A Space Opera), it adds a whole new dimension of relatability.  Purist approaches are fine, but if music is allowed to become a museum, it becomes static and lifeless. If the classics are only presented in their classic form, they have more potential to shrivel up and die. It is akin to comparing recorded music versus live music: respect the style in the performance of it, but add flexibility to keep it fresh.

I had heard about Petite Opera when it first started because I knew some people who had performed with the company. 
How would you describe this opera, concisely, to someone who has never seen it?  In short, why should they come see Petite Opera’s production?
It allows the characters, and even the composer, to become human, and not just be a puppet or robot doing the same old movements. This production breaks the fourth wall.

Rossini’s Barber of Seville is one of the highlights of the bel canto repertoire, and has never left the repertoire anywhere in the world.  Because this is sung in English, our native tongue, it makes the story more understandable and relatable in a way it always isn’t (especially in a big production). 
How would you describe to a prospective patron what the opera is about?  

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Boy sees girl from afar, and decides she’s the one for him.  Through a series of ridiculous events, including multiple costumes and breaking into homes, Figaro assists the Count in winning his Rosina, foiling Bartolo’s plan to keep Rosina and her dowry for himself.  The ridiculous costumed affairs are the majority of the opera, which are fun and make you laugh.

Tickets are $27 for Adults (ages 18-61)
$25 for Seniors (age 62 and up)
$15 for Students (K through College, with ID)
$5 for Children ages 5 and under

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Call 847-553-4442 or email tickets@petiteopera.org

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Mary Wilson House Beyer Auditorium
part of St. Mary’s Episcopal church campus
306 S Prospect Avenue (at Crescent Ave)
Park Ridge, IL 60068