With the country mired in the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, arts organizations have been hit particularly hard as donations dried up and endowments plunged in the stock market. The Florida Grand Opera (FGO) turned to Renaud Doucet and Andre Barbe for an innovative new approach to opera that wouldn’t bust the budget and those efforts will be unveiled this weekend at the Arsht Center as FGO presents Giaccomo Rossini’s masterpiece, The Barber of Seville.
The pair—Doucet is a French director and Barbe a Canadian designer—have been in demand around the globe for nearly two decades for their fresh and innovative interpretations of the opera repertoire. Doucet and Barbe were tapped by FGO General Manager and CEO Robert Heuer to direct all four of the company’s productions.
“These are difficult times because of the financial crisis.” Barbe explains. “We had done a few shows in the past (for FGO) and the offer came. It has been quite a challenge. We’re doing four operas, but we have the budget to do two.”
Completing Barbe’s thought—the two are partners both on stage and off—Doucet adds, “Ten (opera) companies have closed in the U.S. this year and some were major, but Robert (Heuer) decided to think outside the box.”
And think outside the box, the couple did. The Barber of Seville is one of the most popular operas, repeated regularly because of the familiar music and the engaging tale of young love, buffoon’s schemes and mistaken identities as Figaro, the town’s barber and jack-of-all-trades attempts to save the marriage of Rosina and Count Almaviva, while foiling the plots of Dr. Bartolo.
Doucet and Barbe turned to technology, collaborating with a local design studio to create elaborate interactive computer generated animations to serve as the setting for the story.
The pair charged Miami’s Lava Studios to create the animations, which are historically true to the 18th century setting of the opera, but retain the creative license that has made the pair so popular.
Doucet is emphatic. “We are in the 21st century and it made sense to employ the technology of the day to stretch the budget, but technology should not be a toy, but rather serve the piece.”
Doucet and Barbe conceived black and white animations in the style of the “silhouette” that would be contrasted by bright, colorful costumes on the cast.
“I created my own images in the spirit of the 18th century,” Barbe says. “Everything will blend together. We often work with projection in opera, but never to the level we are doing it here. The world of opera is used to traditional productions and this is definitely something new.”
“And we think the audience will be engaged with the results, gaining a new perspective on such a historic art form,” Doucet adds.
Already several other opera companies around the world are interested in the cutting-edge production of the Rossini opera, enhancing FGO’s standing in the opera world.
While technology will be center stage, the duo reminds that the singers are still the stars of the show and FGO has again assembled a world class cast for this production.
Bruno Pratico, as Dr. Bartolo, is considered one of the best singers in the world of that role. And soprano Sarah Coburn will bring unusual color to a role that is often sung by mezzo sopranos.
As for their relationship off the stage, the couple of 20 years says it makes them stronger on stage.
“It is the easiest thing and the most difficult thing because we know each other so well,” Doucet says. “We know what the other is able to do, so we don’t accept any compromise. We expect the best, so this is really the challenge, I would say. But the good thing is that we don’t mix our professional life with our personal life.”
Barbe adds, “Fortunately, we do like living and working together. That doesn’t mean it’s always easy. It’s like this big experience that is following us all the time. We are extremely demanding of each other as artists. During the job we can make the difference between the work and the personal life. We’re always preparing some production.”
And, when The Barber of Seville closes its South Florida performances, the couple will jet to Europe—they spend up to eight months a year on the road—to begin work on another production before returning for FGO’s closing production of Bizet’s Carmen.
“Wherever we are, it’s home” says Barbe. “If you really want to work in opera, there is no way to survive in only one city—that’s the great thing about doing this together.”
The Barber of Seville
Florida Grand Opera
Feb. 20 – 28 at the Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, Miami
March 4 and 6 at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts, Fort Lauderdale
For tickets and more information, visit Fgo.org.