Opera Hong Kong’s recent run of Gioacchino Rossini’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia was notable for an unusual production which frothily updated the action with a 1930s classical movie musical vibe—complete with the “Hollywood” sign as backdrop and dance routines in various period costumes—and perhaps more significantly for the Asian debut of young American mezzo-soprano Stephanie Lauricella, who took the lead role of the ingenue Rosina.
The 2016-2017 season has arguably been Lauricella’s breakout year, launching her into leading roles in Paris and Berlin. Her voice is clear in the high notes while her lower register is rich and resonant, controlled and expressive throughout. Lauricella is, in addition, an actress with great charisma. Entirely in keeping with the production, she vamped the portrayal of Rosina up while simultaneously endowing her with a distinct, and distinctive, character: “feisty” doesn’t half cover it. Happy endings aside, Count Almaviva may find he got more than he bargained for in this thoroughly modern Rosina.
The fact that one can even talk about an “Asian debut in Hong Kong” is an indication of how much the Hong Kong opera scene has changed, even in the past few years. A “debut” is more than just singing somewhere for the first time: the event must at a minimum be meaningful milestone in the artist’s career. And in opera, a “debut” would normally be taken to mean being engaged by a resident company rather than, say, giving a recital or being on tour with an overseas opera company. Until about ten years ago, Hong Kong did not have a systematically organised opera “company” that one could debut with. And it is only much more recently that Hong Kong has begun to appear on the global operatic radar.
The fact that one can even talk about an “Asian debut in Hong Kong” is an indication of how much the Hong Kong opera scene has changed.
With the exception of American veteran Kevin Glavin as Bartolo, this was a young cast, rounded out by Italian Edoardo Milletti as Almaviva and Americans Steven LaBrie and Kevin Thompson as Figaro and Basilio, making for energetic performances.
This was not a production for purists: there were some cuts in the score, notably the first Act balcony scene, and strains from “Dancing in the Rain” at one point wafted in from the keyboard. The stage business at times made more of a nod to classic Hollywood musicals than it did to what was nominally the plot. But Barbiere’s plot must be taken with a large grain of salt as it is.
A jazzed-up, amped-up version of The Barber of Seville can’t really be considered risky, but one scene pushed the envelope. Berta, who is a domestic servant of a certain âge in most productions, was here Bartolo’s efficient, bespectacled personal secretary, bustling youthfully about. Mezzo-soprano Bobbie Zhang took Berta’s one cameo aria, usually a semi-comic lament about missed opportunities for love (and as often as not accompanied by a lot of sneezing) and turned it into an parental-guidance-is-advised energy-laden striptease featuring large red ostrich-feather fans. It was something of a non sequitur, but it brought down the house.