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The Santa Barbara Grand Opera's Zarzuela, "El Barberillo de Lavapies," is a fascinating work by Francisco Barbieri. It was written around the same time as Bizet's "Carmen," and is probably what so fascinated the French about Spanish culture and music. It's about the barber, Lamparilla, who is this Figaro type character. He is also Jack of all Trades among which are musician, and town busybody.
To be sure, we have a love story or two, between Lamparilla and Paloma, the seamstress, and Marquesita and Don Luis, the nephew to one of the Italian advisors to the King. It is also a story of political intrigue, as the Marquesita and Don Juan are part of a conspiracy to rid Spain of the Italian advisors. When they secretly meet, Don Luis finds out, thinks it is a love tryst, and calls the Walloon Guards, who bring in a sedan chair to arrest the conspirators without attracting too much attention. After he creates a diversion to help The Marquesita escape, the Guards are left with only Lamparilla, who knows nothing about anything, and by the way, "when can I leave?"

We have a beautiful duet as Paloma teaches the Marquesita how to act her new disguise, a common street person. Melodee Fernandez is a scintillating Paloma. She establishes a instant rapport with the audience , and is this magnetic, animated presence. A glance, or a gesture, and you are captivated. As Don Luis discovers the plot, and that it is against the Italian advisors, and not the King, he joins in, and after a few more incidents, "They all live happily ever after, and eat lots's of quail." Our Narrator, the Commandant, tells us this bit of wisdom. One can't help but think that it loses something in the translation. Nathan Rundlett is the Narrator, who gives some equally interesting bits of wisdom, along with describing the action that is to come. He's the glue that holds the play together and is tremendously entertaining, mostly in an understated sort of way. When he loses his place, once or twice, it simply becomes part of the act, as seamlessly as if it was written in by the composer. I"m still not sure if the narrations were by Barbieri or Rundlett, but no matter, it was one of the best parts of the show.

This production was very simple, in a complex sort of way. We had beautiful Spanish costumes, but no sets. The orchestra occupied most of the stage, as the singers were at the front, each group following each narration. The Chorus was at the back. It was staged as a concert performance, and was very entertaining. The music was full of lively Latin rhythms; a lot like "Carmen," but the real thing,
instead of Spain seen through the eyes and ears of a Frenchman. This was a first rate cast from top to bottom. It had to be, as there were no ensemble parts, only solos, duets, trios, and quartets. Alan August was a lively Lamparilla, with Celeste Tavera and Gabriel Reoyo-Pazos as the Marquesita and Don Luis. Emil Dorian Cristescu was a suitably Dark Don Juan. Pablo Zinger led the orchestra in this
wonderfully entertaining Zarzuela, "El Barberillo de Lavapies" by The Santa Barbara Grand Opera at the Courthouse Sunken Gardens.

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