WAO Spotlight with Jason Barry-Smith
Notes of iconic arias are filling the air and early steps of a Fandango are being danced as we prepare to present Rossini’s The Barber of Seville next month. From the first moments in the studio to the final moments on stage, we want to shine a spotlight on our creatives working tirelessly to bring the magic of opera to you. Connect with your state opera company on an intimate level and peep through the doors at the collaboration, consideration and rehearsal required to pull off something extraordinary.
Join us with Revival Director Jason Barry-Smith as he discusses balancing comedy with vulnerability, how to communicate the effervescent energy of Lindy Hume’s production, and what makes this story so enchanting.
1. Tell us about your role as Revival Director for The Barber of Seville – what does this involve?
Ultimately a Revival Director should be as clear a conduit to the original intention of the production as possible. This means that they need to be able to communicate the ideas and energy of the original director to the conductor, artists, stage management, wardrobe, lighting, and anyone else involved in the show.
2. We started rehearsals on Monday. What challenges and rewards do you anticipate in the weeks ahead?
I couldn't wait for rehearsals to start, because every cast brings their own magic to a production, and I know the cast that's been brought together for this season is going to be a delight.
As everyone knows, comedy is all about…timing. Finding the balance between what is sung and what is done in opera is always fascinating. One of the many challenges of this production is the Finale of Act II, which finds the entire cast dancing a Fandango. We'll start work on the dance in the first week of rehearsals so that everyone feels like a true citizen of Seville by opening night.
3. Why is this production unique and what do you think audiences will be enchanted by?
Lindy Hume's production is filled with colour, movement, wit, and comedy, and it takes the classic comedic device of the door (visualise French farce, Michael Frayn's "Noises Off", or the sitcoms "Seinfeld" and "Friends") to a whole new level. The link to our favourite sitcoms doesn't end there: Lindy's allowed each of the clearly defined characters to find real truth in their mad antics, and this vulnerability balances the comedy perfectly. Comedy comes from truth, and as the best comic actors always prove, laughter can give way to tears in the twinkling of an eye.
4. Are there any themes, messages or questions in Barber that you think are particularly relevant today?
There are two messages that ring true, particularly looking at it again after the past few years:
The first is that Rosina is a thoroughly modern woman. She knows her worth, she's strong, and even when the men in her life want to control her she won't put up with it. Like so many women in my life, her power is transformative to those around her.
The second message, which occurs in the first half of Act II when Basilio is thought to have scarlet fever, is that one can never disinfect enough during the outbreak of a disease...or a pandemic!
5. When did you first experience Barber? Has your appreciation of the opera changed over time?
Like so many, I think the first time I heard anything from Barber was when Bugs Bunny conducted Figaro's aria, "Largo al factotum", in that glorious Warner Bros. cartoon Long-Haired Hare. That was a seminal experience in my love of opera and helped me see the art form as anything but elitist.
Since then I've listened to Barber, seen it, performed scenes from the original play, sung the title role in three different productions, and assisted in directing this production. Barber is one of the works I've lived with the longest, and it's one of the greatest pieces of theatre I know. Beaumarchais' original story is brilliantly adapted by Sterbini into a libretto that's virtually indestructible; Rossini's music never misses a trick - it fizzes and tickles one moment then seduces and touches the next; but it's the crackling energy that's captured in every page of this score that I take with me everywhere I go.
6. How do your experiences as a singer inform and enrich your directing?
I'm sure that there are many ways; from understanding what I would expect of myself, the need for a good breath at certain moments, and knowing how far I can ask a singer to go. I probably expect more of those around me because I know what's possible.
One of the greatest lessons I've learned is how not to speak to a singer if you expect them to give of their finest. Being an opera singer is a tough gig, and respect is all that's required to help an artist fly.
7. When you’re not absorbed in the world of opera, where can you be found?
Like Figaro, I'm a bit of a factotum myself: I coach singers, I lead community singing projects around the length and breadth of my home state for Opera Queensland, I conduct choirs, I'm a musical director, I write and arrange vocal and choral works...but my two favourite things are taking long walks in the bushland near my home in north-west Brisbane, and spending time with my gorgeous wife, Leisa (who's an author), and my teenage sons, Xander (17) and Kyan (who turns 16 while I'm here in Perth). They are the glories of my life.
Don’t miss your chance to see The Barber of Seville at His Majesty’s Theatre this April – secure your seats now!
ABOUT JASON BARRY-SMITH
Jason’s study in Brisbane, Munich, London and Rome led him to a career as a singer who’s equally in demand as a singing teacher, conductor, arranger, and director.
With 39 opera and music theatre roles in his repertoire, Jason has performed operas, musicals, and concert works in Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, and Japan.
In 2001 Jason directed a production of Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas which won the Perform/4MBS Award for Best Opera Production; he co-wrote and directed two of Opera Queensland’s most popular touring shows, The Food of Love and Waltzing our Matilda; from 2014 to 2016 he was co-creative director of Blue Roo Theatre Company’s diversity embracing collaborations with OQ; as assistant director of La bohème in 2014 and The Barber of Seville in 2016 for OQ, Jason also took on the role of creative director of the industry-acclaimed Project Puccini and Project Rossini – an initiative in which regional performers were trained as the chorus for full-scale professional touring productions; and in 2017 directed The Merry Widow for OQ and the Queensland Music Festival.