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September 3, 2007

The Barber of Seville

Tom McLaughlin

It's like the Grand Canyon, the Sistine Chapel, or the Madonna. You just have to see it. You can't describe it, put it on postcards or watch it on television.

The Sydney Opera House is so much more than a building. It's the symbol of Australia, like the Statute of Liberty is to America. "Waltzing Matilda" seems to blast out from the eves. And, believe me, when you go inside, it is nothing like I or anyone else expects. The rawness of the country is housed there. No flourishes, velvet curtains or other embellishments. Just raw Australia.

My daughter Christine and I took a dinner cruise before the opera. We were on a restaurant-type boat with about 30 or so Chinese teenagers, all in full explosion of excitement. They were running up and down back and forth chattering in their beautiful native language with the high pitches and low tones. They ran out onto the decks during the meal letting in a blast of cold air. (It was winter there). There was just one other table not involved in the fray and neither of us seemed to mind the energy of youth erupting around us.

I had never seen a live opera before, only on Maryland Public Television. Christine had never seen an opera before, period. The tickets cost $248 U.S. each for decent seats. The partial view seats were $58. I cringed when I hit yes on the debit card bringing this evenings total including dinner to around $600.

I really didn't know what to expect. I justified because we would be in Sydney only once and to hear an opera in the opera house has to be a lifetime experience. And it was, oh, the Barber of Seville was sooo good

One of the savings graces was the English translation running in a ribbon above the stage. The music and some words were familiar because they open the movie "Mrs. Doubtfire" where Robin Williams sings small segments of it. (My apologies to Roy Meachum for putting Robin Williams and opera together in the same sentence) Two classic comedies became intertwined in one's mind, unable to shake one from the other.

The Australians added comic touches which made the performance fall down funny. They included a bicycle in segments. The part of Count Almavia was played by a Chinese person and when he went he went into disguise, to woo the lady, he became a Charlie Chan character, complete with beaver teeth and accent. Figaro, the Barber, was hilarious, even if you didn't know what was going on. Minor parts were camped up when the painter waved his work "For Sale" at regular intervals.

To have been in Sydney, to have seen the opera house, to have attended an opera, to have enjoyed the opera and not pretended to, and to have your teenage daughter exclaiming "I am glad this is was my first opera," all mounted together to have been a brilliant! brilliant! (as the Australians say) experience, forever relived whenever the words Figaro! Figaro! are heard.

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