Rossini as rom-com: Opera Hong Kong sets The Barber of Seville in Hollywood’s golden age

Director turns to the theatre of Hollywood musicals for production of Rossini comic opera, and mezzo-soprano Stephanie Lauricella, making her Asian debut, relishes the challenge of singing Rosina, gutsy girl in a man’s world

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 02 May, 2017, 5:03pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 03 May, 2017, 5:25pm

Rossini’s The Barber of Seville may have a predominantly male cast, but that has not put American mezzo-soprano Stephanie Lauricella off taking part in this popular opera. Far from feeling intimidated, the 32-year-old relishes the opportunity to make her character stand out.

“She’s a lot of fun,” says Lauricella, who sings the part of Rosina in Opera Hong Kong’s latest production of the Italian opera.

“Other than me, there’s Berta, who has an aria as well, but it’s mostly guys. I find it interesting to figure out the dynamic between her and all of them. She doesn’t give in to anyone really, she stands on her own. She has the full range of emotions in this opera – love-struck, bored, angry, bewildered.

“It’s fun because you have the world in front of you and she has a different dynamic with each character. She has attitude.”

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Rosina – a young girl confined by her uncle and guardian who intends to marry her once she comes of age for her inheritance – is a role that Lauricella knows well. She performed it for the first time with Pittsburgh Opera in 2010, and is eager to breathe new life into Rosina in a production by director Lorenzo Mariani that is set in Hollywood in the 1930s.

Audiences are likely to find this Opera Hong Kong production accessible as the Italian director turns to the era of Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire for his take on what could be considered, in contemporary terms, a romantic comedy.

“The dynamism and the theatrical nature of the Hollywood musical is the key to reading this production, because I think that this style and this world corresponds very well to the essence of Rossini’s world and the world of The Barber of Seville,” Mariani says.

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“The basic ingredients are a good story, good music and good singing, and in Rossini’s Barbiere these are done in an exceptional way. There’s the possibility to see virtuoso vocals, the possibility to laugh, to empathise with Rosina. We can identify with her – finding love in life is something that affects us all.”

Much loved by singers and audiences alike, Rosina’s confidence and attitude requires a certain energy. Recalling Lauricella’s audition for the role in New York, Opera Hong Kong founder and artistic director Warren Mok Wan-lun says: “I immediately liked her voice and stage presence. She is a vibrant singer and acts well. Her voice is full of energy and perfect for the role of Rosina.”

Originally from Long Island, Lauricella spent her childhood singing and dancing, but it was only in high school that she started taking voice lessons. Her teacher encouraged her to pursue music at university, first at Ithaca College in New York and then her masters degree, at the Manhattan School of Music.

“I didn’t grow up with classical music at all,” says Lauricella, who recently sang the role of Dorabella in Mozart’s Cosi fan tutte in Paris. “My parents love music but neither of them are musical. I enjoyed going into the city to see musicals, but I grew up singing pop tunes. It wasn’t until I went to college that I focused on opera.”

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After her 2010 performance with Pittsburgh Opera, the mezzo-soprano went to Europe and joined the Grand Théâtre de Genève’s small ensemble. Smaller roles in Berlin followed, before Lauricella sang lead roles in Seattle and then Dorabella in Berlin and Paris.

Her upcoming performance with Opera Hong Kong will mark her Asian debut.

And while it’s not easy to be away from family, Lauricella is excited to be performing in Asia.

“I’m always excited to be singing in new places,” the singer says. “This is not a normal life for most people and while I’m able to do this, I want to explore the world. Whenever I go to a new city, I do the research – I’m a big planner – and look up things to do to make sure that even though I’m working I do get a chance to see the city.”

The Barber of Seville, Opera Hong Kong, Hong Kong Cultural Centre Grand Theatre, May 5, 6, 7.30pm; May 7, 3pm. HK$90 to HK$800. Inquiries: 2234 0303