'The Barber of Seville': Oh, we meant to do it this way

With Bass Concert Hall no longer available, Austin Lyric Opera is working to stage The Barber of Seville in a hall with no orchestra pit, no proscenium, and no wing space

For most of its 20-year history, Austin Lyric Opera has performed at Bass Concert Hall, one of the many venerable performing-arts venues on the University of Texas campus. A year from now, ALO, like other Austin arts organizations, will be performing at the new Long Center on Town Lake, but about two years ago, ALO was informed that it would have to obtain a new performance space even before they moved into the Long. "Bass is closing down to totally remodel," says Molly Browning, ALO's longtime marketing director. "There were fire-code issues, and they're correcting those, but they also decided that renovation was sort of long overdue. Bass is going to be closed for a long period of time, something like 18 months. The only other available space on the UT campus was Hogg Auditorium, and there's no way that could accommodate opera. So we were sort of in the same boat as the Austin Symphony in that we needed a large hall to perform in."

The hall they've ended up sailing in is Riverbend Centre, Dr. Gerald Mann's richly realized modern version of a Greco-Roman amphitheatre on Capital of Texas Highway. Directing the company's new production of The Barber of Seville is longtime ALO vocalist Joey Evans, who teaches voice at the University of Houston. "We're taking what is fundamentally a liability and turning it into an asset," says Evans. "We're making it look like we intended to do it at Riverbend in the first place. Conceptually, we had to figure out a way to use a space that has no orchestra pit, no proscenium arch, no wing space, no way to do a typically theatrical kind of situation. So, some platforms were built to extend the stage a little bit, but the orchestra is actually onstage and part of the action. The conductor's part of the action. We may even make you a part of the action!"

Whether you're made part of the action or not, it's fairly certain that, even if you've seen Rossini's classic before, you've never seen it performed quite like this. Says Evans, "I sat down with David Nancarrow, our production designer, and we designed two colorful rolling cubes, and they transform into everything: a house, a shop, a balcony. The entire show comes out of those cubes. The chorus is pretty much choreographed from beginning to end. There's a lot of running and jumping, so everybody's losing weight. A lot of stuff goes on that we let the audience see that they wouldn't normally see. At one point there's a quick costume change that takes about 11 seconds. It's a lot of fun."

Opera that's fun? You might want to take the kids to this one.

The Barber of Seville runs Saturday, April 14, 7:30pm; Monday, April 16, 7:30pm; Friday, April 20, 7:30pm; and Sunday, April 22, 3pm, at Riverbend Centre, 4214 Capital of TX Hwy. N. For more information, call 472-5992 or visit www.austinlyricopera.org.

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Austin Lyric Opera, The Barber of Seville, Bass Concert Hall, Riverbend Centre, Joey Evans, David Nancarrow

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