Few general directors are also artistic directors in the world of performance, but BLO’s Esther Nelson is one of those with both artistic vision and financial acumen. She honed that acumen as a management consultant for various arts programs around the nation and during her time running Glimmerglass Opera, one of the country’s most prestigious opera festivals. Her time growing up in Europe has given her an international point of view, which she calls upon when pulling together productions like the BLO’s latest, TheBarber of Seville.
Which is more difficult in opera— being dramatic or comedic? ESTHER NELSON: They’re equally difficult, but in terms of timing I think comedies, whether in opera or in theater, are more difficult to pull off. Comedy is so extraordinarily important because it has to fit on many levels, including singing. Slapstick is only funny if the humor is evident to the audience without the actor telling you, “This is funny, people.”
How close to the edge do you take farce? EN: This was part of Rossini’s popularity—with his comedies, he was an absolute master. But there is a delicacy in the piece too. Rossini isn’t just slapstick funny. It’s also about the rising middle class and the abuse of power by the aristocracy, and that’s often ignored.
Barber was one of the first Italian operas performed in America. Why did it resonate? EN: I think because of its genre. It’s also a perfect little jewel because musically it’s so pleasurable; it appeals to every generation. I even love the Bugs Bunny versions. We had all of them in our house. They’re hilarious.
People can be intimidated by opera, but this one centers so much on farce, lust, and gossip— fodder for so much of today’s popular entertainment. EN: If Rossini had had television at the time, it would have been true slapstick. [With Barber of Seville] you cannot help but smile and laugh, and if it’s done well, you can’t help but be happy for the next few days because it gets into your bloodstream.
The Barber of Seville runs March 9, 11, 14, 16, and 18 at Boston Lyric Opera, 11 Ave. de Lafayette, 617-542-4912.