Playing Doctor Bartolo

This week, I will perform with Tessitoura, a Bristol-based opera company that performs in unique spaces with a small but very talented group of singers and musicians.  This project is Rossini’s masterpiece, The Barber of Seville (1816). It follows the fortunes of The Count Almaviva, Rosina, Doctor Bartolo, Don Basilio to name but a few.  Oh, and a certain barber called Figaro.  This very special opera was based on Pierre Beaumarchais’ French comedy Le Barbier de Seville (1775) and is the first of a trilogy, the second of which – The Marriage of Figaro – was famously adapted into an opera by Mozart (1786).

I play the main villain of the piece, or perhaps more truthfully fodder for the Count’s trickery and Figaro’s scheming.  He is a physician and Rosina’s guardian, but he has grander schemes in mind involving marriage and money. This role appears to be the exact opposite of Enrico in Donizetti’s Il Campanello di Notte (The Night Bell) in which I was a bugs bunny-esque rogue.  Now I am Elmer Fudd!

So what is needed in preparing for the role of the Doctor Bartolo?

The role certainly requires an ability to say things quickly, as with the pitter-patter song, A un dottor dell mia sorte.  Otherwise it requires a mix of comic timing and a hint of malevolence.  But mainly, it is a straight-role, being a yin to the Count’s yang.  If he is outrageous, be grounded, and when the Count is calm, then Doctor Bartolo will no doubt be pacing the stage, raging (again, think Bugs and Fudd).  He is also an older man so I need to modify my behaviour to suit that persona.  I even have a prop (a cane) and a bow tie!

It should be lots of fun. The cast is very talented and Rossini’s music, sublime!  If you are looking for something to do this weekend, then do consider coming along!  It will be performed in St Matthew’s Church in Kingsdown Bristol, St. Mary’s Church in Stoke Bishop Bristol and the medieval barn in Winterbourne.     It’s also in support of the Above and Beyond charity.

Playing Escamillo

There is something both scary and liberating about preparing to play a showman like the celebrated Toreador or bull fighter.  He is a character in Bizet’s opera masterpiece, Carmen.  It’s based on the novella of the same name by Prosper Merimee.  The characters of Carmen and Don Jose are already very fleshed out but Bizet does a brilliant job in turning the story into a full-scale opera.  The music is also stunning with so many memorable tunes and pieces containing such exotic flavour, both in rhythm and style.

Two principle characters in the opera do not exist in the original story – Escamillo and Don Jose’s maiden friend from Don Jose’s village.  They represent two different facets of Carmen and Don Jose’s brief relationship. Micaëla represents the simple, innocent life that Don Jose used to enjoy whilst Escamillo could be Carmen’s future, however brief their love affair might be.

So, who is Escamillo?  What is it like to step into his shoes?

In my audition, I said I pictured Eric Cantona after he scored a sensational goal for Manchester United.  The way he slow-turned on the spot allowing a rapturous stadium to drink him in; this to me was the modern-day Matador.  Zlatan Ibrahimovic is the other football showman I have in mind.  He is so sure and convinced of his own brilliance that he is perceived as arrogant.

As a role, it is brief but explosive.  He appears three times, once to promote his next bull fight, then in pursuit of Carmen and finally arriving at the bull ring.  In those three moments, he sings about how great he is, has a knife duel and serenades Carmen in front of his adoring public.

Now that the lines are learned, I’m learning the fight choreography and how to appear more macho and arrogant, physically.  For this I have Choreographer Herbert DesLauriers to thank as he works with us to refine our character movements.  Anything which gets you into character and out of your head is useful, such as a new posture, a focus, a costume.  I’m hoping I get my Toreador swagger soon…

Bristol Opera’s production of Carmen will be performed 26-29 April 2017.