Meet The Man with the Vision For Rossini to Appear in his own Barber of Seville

Michael Kotze, Stage Director, sat down with Executive Director, Susan Baushke to discuss his vision for Petite Opera’s upcoming
“Barber of Seville”

How many times have you directed “Barber of Seville”? How have the productions been different each time?
I’ve directed it four times: in Italian, in English, and as a shortened adaptation for young audiences. Each time, I’ve had to approach the piece from a lot of different angles, knowing what the audience’s expectations will be. I find this work always gives you something to do, in terms of adapting it to meet the needs of a particular audience. It never dictates being done just one way–which is what makes it so much fun to return to again and again–because you are never doing the same show. Frankly, though, despite all of the adaptations and translations I’ve been involved in, the thing that really makes the show, and distinguishes each production, is the cast. These roles are such a gift to singers with personality. The characters really allow the performer’s personalities to shine through. There are as many personalities as there are singers. Its always fun to see the chemical reactions when you mix different casts together.
Bartolo (Eric McConnell, seated, center) fumes at the situation, while Count Almaviva (Brett Potts, left),
Rosina (Liana Gineits, center), and Figaro (Gabriel DiGennaro, right) try to calm him down.
I’ve had Bartolos who are absolute clowns, and some that are very dignified; both ways work and create a different situation for the others in the cast to bounce off of. Likewise, with the Count, and Rosina… each interpretation creates so many different great combinations.
     It has been very fun to work with our double cast and have both sets of performers in the room, mixing and matching. It is quite enlightening for me to see something I’ve given them to do from two different angles, and then bring into focus what works best. I wouldn’t get that if I just put that coat on one person and saw it one way the whole time. This way, I get to see situations put on different people and see it react differently. For a director, that’s stimulating.
What do you think of the dialogue you created for Petite Opera’s adaptation?
It challenging to work the dialogue so it is short, snappy and energized enough to keep the room engaged when no one is singing. I’ve tried to keep the dialogue as concise as possible, getting out the plot points, even those that are convoluted, and challenging to make concise. It needs to be short, fast and funny in order to keep the energy level up.  The last thing we want is for people to lose steam during the dialogues.

I’ve been interviewing the cast, and asking about what impact switching the recitatives with dialogue has, and most are saying it makes it much more approachable.  Is it living up to what you envisioned?
Now that I’ve seen it, I’m really liking it. I told the cast that we were building this from scratch, and wasn’t sure of what to expect. What I like about it is that it is very direct.  Having to communicate the piece in our language—English—and sometimes not even using the full trappings of opera—like recitative—means we have to be very direct and know what we’re talking about.
     It is easy to paper over many things when singing in a foreign language, or keep things very obscure, and the audience generally won’t notice. But when we sing it in English, and put the plot forward with dialogue between the musical numbers, we must be really clear and spell it all out, otherwise, even a child in the audience will know something is wrong. It’s about storytelling. Oftentimes in opera, storytelling gets forgotten because there is enough going on with the music, decor, costumes, etc., that sometimes the story goes out the window. In this version, we are putting the story front and center.

So have any new relationship angles developed out of these characters as a result of adding in Rossini as a character, and switching recitatives to dialogue?
The main thing that becomes much more clear is Rosina’s sense of desolation and feeling of betrayal by the Count. In the opera, it is dealt with in recitative in the opera, never given its own aria to expound upon that. In many productions it gets swept under the rug.  Here we had to craft a dialogue which gets that all there in front of the audience. By putting that plainly and clearly in dialogue, it sets the darkest moment in the opera, and gives it more relief. The only time I’ve gotten that sense of Rosina’s betrayal previously is when I saw the original Beaumarchais play upon which the opera is based.
     The addition of Rossini — not only does it hep with getting out some of the exposition cleanly, it allows us to inject even more humor into the piece. Rossini is a bit of a wisecracker. Having him there to host the party keeps everything bubbling along rather nicely.
Members of the double-cast Barber of Seville, promoting the show at Oberweiss Dairy in Park Ridge
(from L.) Liana Gineitis, Gabriel DiGennaro, Edward Kuffert, Kaitlin Galetti, Brett Potts, Eric McConnell, Max Hosmer
This is your first time working with Petite Opera. What do you think about the company?
What initially struck me was the incredibly high quality of the singing. We have two casts of Barber of Seville and everyone is wonderful. It is a pleasure to hear these people sing; there isn’t a bad one in the bunch. That is a luxury.
     I like that the primary focus of the company is to make these pieces speak to the audience directly, through the translation, and the intimacy of the room. It’s great and a wonderful way to experience these pieces and get to know them. This is not about dumbing it down; it is about making sure we are communicating to newcomers. In many artistic ventures, it is easy to go off on tangents, and see the forest and not the trees. The focus of Petite Opera is very much on communication and storytelling. It is just good discipline for me to keep focused on the heart of it all: the story.

To someone new to opera, never seen Barber before, why should they come see this production?
It combines two wonderful things: Humor and Athleticism. First, there are many laughs. Secondly, it brings you up close to the athleticism of singing. This music is very difficult. As they say in the movie Amadeus, “there are a lot of notes”. It really is like watching great athletes as these singers negotiate this music. This music requires really terrific technique and control. Just listening to it on a recording doesn’t really given you the sense. When you are in the same room, breathing the same air as these performers, you really appreciate what they are doing, and how amazing this type of singing is. Add to that a funny story, and you have a great evening!

Any closing insights?
I love the energy of this music, and the way it just throws one wonderful idea after another at you. It is hard to keep up with it. The production is so prodigal in its invention, and such a delight, rather like seeing the insides of some complicated watch or machine and seeing all of the gears and spokes all working together.  It has a mad energy, and I love it!

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