Opera Orlando to perform "The Barber of Seville" at Casa Feliz

The immersive show starts Jan. 31.

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  • | 8:51 p.m. January 25, 2019
  • Winter Park - Maitland Observer
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Opera can be an exhilarating, grand affair. But with a large venue and far-away seating, it can run the risk of the audience feeling detached.  

That won’t be a problem with the Opera Orlando’s sold-out “The Barber of Seville” production at the Casa Feliz Historic Home & Venue starting in late January. It’s set to be an immersive experience, with the group’s members putting on a show where they will sing, joke and even shave off a man’s beard while being as close to the audience as they can. 

“It’s so amazing as a performer, when you’re used to the light in your eyes and sort of being able to see the audience but not really, to see the impact that opera and singing has on people, because they’re right there,” Stage Director Bob Neu said. “To be this close and hear (singing), people’s jaws just kind of drop, they can’t get over this.”

The opera series, which will start Jan. 31 and conclude Feb. 10, will be site-specific for Casa Feliz — meaning the opera group specifically chose the historic building to be the setting. 

Opera Orlando Executive and Artistic Director Gabriel Preisser said he has had his eye on the location since the group’s rebranding three years ago. He recruited Bob Neu, who he worked with on site-specific productions in Minneapolis, to be the stage director.

Because of the building’s Spanish architecture and exterior balcony, both Preisser and Neu thought it would be a perfect locale for the 19th-century set of “The Barber of Seville.”  The two-and-a-half hour performance will begin outside the building and then head into the family room, where performers will be entering and exiting around them. It ends at the back of the house, where the archways factor into the story.

The Gioachino Rossini-written opera’s plot follows the barber Figaro — played by Preisser — helping a disguised noble to free a young woman from a villainous doctor so they can marry. It’s very much a comedy, and Preisser likens it to early Bugs Bunny and Looney Tunes with a witty, fast patter that keeps people laughing. This particular iteration takes place in the late 1800s to match the building’s aesthetic.

The opera is a different kind of performance that requires a different type of performer, Preisser said. Both he and Neu sought out performers who were comfortable with working in smaller, more intimate spaces and also could bring a level of improv and acting to the show. 

“The Barber of Seville” also has various musical pieces that will be performed in English, a departure from its typical Italian. It’s a change for Neu, who has directed the show in its native language before. He has enjoyed the audience’s ability to understand the punchlines as soon as they land rather than having to wait for a translation.

“If the whole point of this is to bring opera up close and be personal, it has to be accessible,” he said. “People have to understand the language. Plenty of companies are doing opera in English now; it shouldn’t be that shocking to anybody. … This opera is a comedy. There’s very clever things, and if you don’t understand the jokes right at the moment they happen, you miss out.”


Gennard Lombardzzi as Count Almaviva

Nathan Stark as Dr. Bartolo

Tyler Putnam as Basilio

Gabriel Preisser as Figaro

Benjamin Ludwig as Officer/Figaro (cover)

Sarah Nordin as Rosina 

Brian Jame Myer as Bert/Fiorello


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