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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Operatic comedy

The Opera Plus Production of Italian composer Gioachino Rossini’s “The Barber of Seville” opens tonight and promises to be a memorable show. Written in 1816, “The Barber of Seville” is a comedy, starring a cast of bright young talent from across the United States. The story is about Count Almaviva, who has fallen in love with the beautiful commoner Rosina. Rosina lives under the watchful eye of her guardian, Don Bartolo, who also is in love with her.

Figaro, the count’s quick-witted former servant, has access to Bartolo’s house, as he is his barber. Bartolo is joined by his accomplice, Don Basilio, in his endeavors to make Rosina his own. Hilarity ensues as they try to win Rosina’s hand.

In the title role of Figaro is baritone Andrew Garland, who currently lives in Cincinnati and is originally from Kingston, Mass. Garland, 28, is here on an outreach program with the Seattle Opera, as is 28-year-old Joseph Muir, who sings the role of Almaviva.

This is Garland’s third time in Coeur d’Alene. He has been studying opera for 10 years and has been performing professionally for three. He began playing piano at age 9, then played bass guitar, bass drum and tuba in his school band his sophomore year of high school.

“The chorus director said to me, ‘You should join the chorus’,” Garland said. He declined, but the teacher said he could get a grade just for playing the piano for the chorus. He agreed, but then they decided not to use the piano.

“I never did play the piano. I sang with the choir from day one and loved it,” Garland said.

He took voice lessons and received his bachelor’s degree in music education from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

“I made more progress in 30 minutes of voice lessons than I did in 10 years of piano lessons,” Garland said. “This is just easier. I have a knack for this, and I like it a lot more.”

Garland said that most opera singers, except the very famous ones, are not wealthy, but they stay in really nice houses when they tour. Opera Plus Board members and sponsors are providing accommodations for the cast and director.

“We get invited to really lavish parties, so we just live vicariously through all the patrons,” Garland quipped. This is his second time playing the role of Figaro.

Rosina is brought to life by soprano Christina Major, 30, who is married to Muir. She began singing in church as a girl. “The Phantom of the Opera” musical came out when she was 12 and she fell in love with it. Her mom bought her the CD, she started mimicking the songs in her room, and her parents recognized that she could sing.

“It was an accident,” Major said. “They wanted to put me in voice lessons right then, but luckily a teacher at school said, ‘Let’s wait. Let her voice develop.’ It can be dangerous to really put a lot of stress on a young voice.”

She started lessons at 15 and was hooked. She made her debut with Opera San Jose at the age of 23. This is the second time she has played the role of Rosina, which is normally sung by a mezzo, the lower female voice.

Garland and Majors said there is a lot of running around in this show, and they are literally out of breath singing opera, while dashing about on stage – in one scene, carrying furniture.

This will be the first time that Muir has created the role of Almaviva. A California native, he and Major met in San Jose in 1998 when he was singing chorus in “Rake’s Progress” by Stravinsky with Opera San Jose. They have been married since 2000.

Like Garland, he started in high school choir. He began singing classically at age 20, studied voice in college, and got his first big break when he stood in at Opera San Jose for a friend who had gotten in a car wreck.

“I called the company and said I know the role, and so I was put in at the last minute as a substitution,” Muir said. “That was actually my debut in opera.”

In the role of Bartolo is Todd Robinson from Binghamton, N.Y. Robinson was an elementary school music teacher in Pennsylvania for three years before starting his graduate work in opera in 1996.

“I ended up taking lessons and getting roles and they thought I might have a career in this, so I gave up teaching,” Robinson said.

He received his master’s degree and continues to study as a resident artist with the Tri-Cities Opera in Binghamton. He has been supporting himself as a singer since 2000. He landed this role by auditioning for Opera Plus artistic director Ann Manzo over the phone from his hotel room while he was at another opera performance. This is the fifth time he has played Bartolo.

“I know it pretty well,” Robinson said. “It’s a fun role.”

Brenda Nuckton from Portland will direct “The Barber of Seville.” She was recommended to Opera Plus by a former student of hers. Nuckton has been involved in opera since 1990, beginning as a singer then moving into stage management to assistant directing and then to directing.

“The Barber of Seville” is sung in Italian; there will be English surtitles above the stage. The performers learn word-for-word in English what they are singing, because especially now with the sur-titles, their actions must fit with what they are singing.

“That’s been a thing that’s come out in opera in the past 10 years and has made opera very accessible,” Major said.

“The Barber of Seville” is part one in a trilogy of operas. Next year, Opera Plus will produce part two, “The Marriage of Figaro,” which was scored by Mozart.

Opera plus was started in 2000 by former high school teacher, Mark Faulkner. He decided it was time for opera to come to Coeur d’Alene, given the area’s growth and appreciation of the arts. The first year they used all local singers.

He and his wife, Marlo Faulkner, and Manzo do the scouting and hiring of the talent.

A nonprofit organization, Opera Plus has outreach programs for elementary through college age students. As a result, Faulkner expects that more young people will come to the opera, since they now understand and appreciate the art. He’s sticking with comedies for now to build an audience. Faulkner has always worked with young people, and has built up a roster of 30 to 40 young singers who want to come here and sing.