It was a brisk Thursday night in New York, and
I stood in awe of the towering glass windows before me – the sacred
entrance to the Metropolitan Opera House. Clutched in my fingers was
a ticket for that evening’s performance of The Barber of Seville, a
I felt an air of expectation as I walked up
those steps and humbly hand your ticket to an usher, despite knowing
precisely where your seat is in the sprawling 3,800-seat music hall.
I was seated in the orchestra section, about nine rows back, close
enough to see it all and properly immerse myself in the performance.
The room was a sea of red unfilled seats; my eagerness had brought
me to the Met early, but I happily took my seat and watched the
crowds slowly shuffle in, buzzing with excitement at what promised
to be a seminal performance of Rossini’s masterpiece.
Paging through the program, I quickly found the
biography of baritone Edward Parks, who would be playing the titular
role. Having debuted nearly a decade earlier as Fiorello in the same
opera, I was eager to see Parks take the spotlight. The seats had
quickly filled during my perusal, and the hum of energy that can
only be found in the theater invigorated me as I settled in,
occasionally snatching glances at the clock on my phone, anxious for
the show to begin.
The lights went down and the curtain went up,
and what followed was a masterful new take on a 200-year-old story.
Parks was a whimsical and amusing Figaro and played the perfect
matchmaker for both hilarious acts. The striking sets and vivid
costumes were the perfect counterpoints to soaring harmonies and
thoughtful arias, every actor’s performance transported the audience
to another world – one of mistaken identity, subterfuge, dangerous
affairs, coquetry and endless trickery.
The scenes flowed into the next with ease and
grace, and a decent amount of humor and the audience was obviously
thrilled with the performance. Ultimately, it is the story of love
winning out over tyranny, a theme that any audience member could
enthusiastically stand behind. I am hardly an opera aficionado, but
I recognized some songs, including Figaro! (of course) and Don
Basilio – What Do I See? Doctor Bartolo, as is usually the case, was
criminally easy to despise, while Rosina and Count Almaviva both
delivered standout performances. Their love was palpable from the
moment he began to serenade her on the balcony. Opera is often the
product of excellent music, but the engaging acting at the Met was
undeniable and made the entire production more appealing.
From across two centuries, the same universal story and timeless music had elevated a crowd of thousands to their feet. It reminded me of the flexibility of time and space, how a song, an idea, a perfectly crafted phrase or an untarnished memory could withstand the weight of years.
When I finally strolled out of the opera house,
I had no destination in mind, and the lilting contralto tones of
Rosina were still ringing in my ears. As I headed in an aimless
direction, I allowed my mind to wander… across the sea, to cobbled
streets far from home. I had not visited Seville in many years, and
while Manhattan’s 5th Avenue was a far cry from Seville’s Calle
Campana, I could almost imagine myself back there.
The world felt smaller in Seville; it had its
private dramas and excitements, mostly cut off from the rest of the
country. Turning randomly on New York streets, my mind drifted back
to nights of losing myself in the avenues and tangled lanes of
Seville, of stumbling across late night cafes, horchaterías and even
the occasional barbershop. One was named Figaro, and another was El
Barbero de Sevilla; they didn’t mind leaning into the history of
that legendary opera. My favorite was Bald Monkey, a more trendy and
modern barbershop than many of the others, but I got one of the best
haircuts there. The barbers believe in taking their time and
conversing with their patrons, while also working their meticulous
magic on every strand of hair.
I had never met a barber quite like Figaro, but
these small pockets of the community were certainly where the action
happened in Seville. Barbershops in Spain were hubs of gossip and
action, unlike the sterile spaces and commercial chains that have
taken over in America. It was rare to hear English being spoken, and
the social aspect of the barbershops sometimes meant 3 or 4 locals
were talking over one another, trying to get their point across,
with the barber occasionally turning his head to add his opinion. I
had spoken enough Spanish to survive and participated as much as I
could in those moments, but I enjoyed listening and observing the
scene. The entire city of Seville was a welcoming and beautiful
place, but I felt particularly at home in that corner barbershop.
I particularly recall the speed with which
groups of Spaniards spoke, laughed, joked and tumbled over one
another’s words; it was like the intertwined lines of harmony from
one of the opera’s pivotal quintets. There was the feeling that,
despite the simple surroundings, important things were happening. In
that small corner of the world, the barbers were king, and life
seemed easier with them as the guardians of gossip and harbingers of
I eventually stepped out of my reverie of Seville, back to the very different streets of New York City, a few dozen blocks away from the opera house. It had been a fantastic night and a free jaunt through nostalgia. Despite being more than a mile from the Met, and 3,500 miles from Seville, I could almost hear the closing notes of the opera, and the snip of the barber’s shears.