Florida Grand Opera Celebrates Its 75th Season With The Barber of Seville

Florida Grand Opera (FGO) returns this weekend to the Arsht Center with a production of Gioachino Rossini’s The Barber of Seville. The classic and enduring comedic opera established many of the guidelines and parameters we’ve come to know from the opera buffa and it is one of the few works in the operatic world (spoiler alert) in which no one dies. Premiering in 1816, Il barbiere is one of the best-known too, even for those unfamiliar with operas. It is hard to forget the refrain of “Figaro, Figaro, Figaro” coming from the aria sung by the barber, “Largo al factotum della città.”

With an updated version taking the action into a 1940s film set, the many plot twists, cases of mistaken identity and romantic scheming of this work gives it a unique sense of pacing and allows for the performers to highlight their acting chops during their singing parts. New Times had a chance to discuss this production with the FGO’s general director and CEO Susan T. Danis ahead of its premiere this Saturday.

New Times: What characteristics of Rossini’s opera buffa have endeared this work to the stage for over 200 years? In your opinion, what is it about Figaro that continues to enchant?
Susan T. Danis: I think it’s the magic combination of Rossini’s scintillating music and Beaumarchais’ amazingly clever play. Rossini is only about 24 years old when he writes the opera, and it’s immediately clear he already has a secure lock on the style he largely created known as “bel canto,” which in Italian simply means beautiful singing. Everyone can relate to Figaro. He is clever, cunning, funny, and resourceful. If we aren’t Figaro, we know one. Besides he has one of the most known arias in all of opera!

This production has an updated twist and the libretto certainly allows itself to mold with the times, how would you compare the original setting to this production’s 1940’s vibe?
The operas that seem to work best with “updated” productions are usually those that audiences have seen many, many times. Updating in this production helps us look a little more closely at things we’ve seen before, and gives a fresh relevance to both the characters and the action. It works well because it points up the same human behaviors that make traditional productions succeed, but in a fresher and surprising way.

What can you tell us about the cast and crew for this production? There are many making their FGO debut here.
The many young, exciting, and hugely gifted singers we have add something that maybe only truly age appropriate artists can. The older Dr. Bartolo is also portrayed by two different singing actors that have graced our stage before, Kevin Glavin and Kevin Short. The amazing baritone David Pershall makes his debut with us at Figaro. He is fresh from signing Figaro at the Vienna Staatsoper and then goes to the Met to make his debut there in the same role. The concept by Dennis Garnhum, one of Canada’s leading directors, is truly entertaining. I know audiences will love it.

You have another ambitious year ahead with Norma and Don Pasquale – classics of the operatic stage — but you also have a production of The Passenger scheduled. How conscious of a decision is it to incorporate modern works into your season and what have been the observable results of doing so?

If not always modern, we feel we have a responsibility to the community, the art form, and ourselves to provide an experience that will stretch imaginations, help both the audience and the company’s artists grow, and enable the audience that attended to find themselves changed in some capacity when they depart. Modern operas, or those new to our audience, are unlikely to produce the strongest ticket sales, but I’ve actually heard someone say, “Five years from now, I might have trouble recalling a La bohème or Traviata you might have done this season, but I will never forget Mourning Becomes Electra!”

Twentieth and 21st-century work attracts a different audience. We have seen these new opera goers return for other “contemporary” works.

Seventy-five years is a remarkable accomplishment. What is in store for the FGO going forward from here?
We are putting the final touches on our 2016-17 season which is officially our 75th. While this is the FGO's 75th Season, the 75th anniversary of the company's founding is not until 2016. It is a great balance of old and new that speaks to our many communities in South Florida. Every day, we strive to grow the audience for opera both in and out of the opera house with adults and children of all ages. Opera is such a rewarding, nourishing art form though, that neither we nor our audiences want to do without it. None of us, even the younger members of our team, if you will, are going to live long enough to exhaust all of the wonders waiting to be discovered in this amazing thing we call opera.

Florida Grand Opera presents Gioachino Rossini’s The Barber of Seville
7 p.m. Saturday, November 14, at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, 1300 Biscayne Blvd., Miami. Tickets cost $25 to $179. Call 786-468-2000 or visit
KEEP MIAMI NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Miami New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Miami, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Abel Folgar