[ON STAGE]This 'Barber' a Good Trim JobIt is rare for opera fans to see every facial expression of a performer on stage, unless those fans pay for rather costly seats. However, at a small theater in Daehangno, downtown Seoul, a well-known opera is being performed in a cozy space, allowing each spectator to see the reactions of every character.
The Opera Stage S.H.I.N., established in 1998, is in the middle of presenting the longest running show in Korean opera history. The company's version of Rossini 's 1816 classic "The Barber of Seville" opened Sept. 14 and will run through Nov. 11.
As a young opera company, Opera Stage S.H.I.N. seems to have a clear vision of how to attract audiences. The company limits music to the most known arias and ensemble pieces, it uses theatrical performers in supporting roles and it has trimmed an hour off the normal time of this opera.
"The Barber of Seville" begins with Count Almaviva journeying from Madrid to the city of Seville to serenade the strong-willed beauty Rosina. Almaviva's band of musicians has spent night after night in front of Rosina's window trying to help their master get a glimpse of her. The mischievous Figaro, the barber of Bartolo, promises to help him court.
Bartolo, Rosina's guardian, is plotting to marry Rosina the next day in order to get her dowry. Figaro comes up with a series of schemes to link Rosina and Almaviva by disguising the count as a drunken soldier and then a music teacher.
Koreans appreciate this two-century-old story. But so do foreigners. On Sunday, William M. Balsamo, a New Yorker, was spotted in the audience of the Hakchon Blue Theater. Mr. Balsamo, a former opera singer, is a professor in the English department of Kenmei Women's Junior College in Japan. During a visit to Seoul to attend a conference, Mr. Balsamo happened to see the Korean opera. "If you are familiar with 'The Barber of Seville,' you will have no problem enjoying this opera, even if you don't understand a word of Korean, like me," he said.
Mr. Balsamo was familiar with small-venue opera houses, which the 46-seat Hakchon Blue Theater is. A single grand piano there stands in lieu of an orchestra.
For those who want to know how the romantic count turns into a sleazy womanizer, watch for the Opera Stage S.H.I.N.'s "The Marriage of Figaro" coming next year.
by Rhee Hyun-ju