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Opera in a New Era: Barber of Seville by IU 2020 - A Production Chronicle by Diego Barbosa-Vásquez

Kevin Murphy – Conductor

Michael Shell – Director

Trevor Regars - Stage Manager

Diego Barbosa-Vásquez - Assistant/Cover Conductor

*Para versión en Español: Da Click Aquí

Doing Opera in the middle of a pandemic is a huge fortune. While many theaters and opera companies worldwide were obliged to stop their performing activities, Indiana University Opera and Ballet worked very hard to produce an opera following the health measures in the middle of a pandemic. This text is the story of how an opera with more than two hundred years of tradition was rethought and produced during a difficult time following all the safety procedures. This is the story of an opera that was broadcasted to the whole world by IU Music Life on Nov 13th and 14th of 2020. This is a story of how arts help us overcome difficult situations showing that making beauty is still possible.

As one of the most performed Operas worldwide, Indiana University Opera and Ballet department selected an opera that all singers have to have in their repertoire. Rossini's Il Barbiere di Siviglia. Known as a high-level Music School, in terms of Opera, Indiana University focuses on offer to singers, conductors, pianists, orchestra musicians, and full Opera related field experiences as close to the real performing professional life worldwide. This university prepares the leading musicians of tomorrow. In this specific production, Il Barbiere di Siviglia, Nov 2020, in the middle of a Pandemic, they really prepared musicians to be creative to overcome problems doing great art no matter the difficulties.

This Opera experience came to me in the middle of April 2020. I was informed by my current Conducting Maestro Arthur Fagen, that I would be appointed as Assistant/Cover Conductor of Indiana University Opera starting in August 2020. The original plan of Il Barbiere di Siviglia was to be produced in the standard way with premiere in October and 4 performances. Six weeks of preparation of singers between musical, stage, and last rehearsals. In terms of the orchestra, around two weeks of rehearsals for the players alone and with the singers. And the production was meant to be conducted by Maestro Marzio Conti, a worldwide renowned Italian conductor with huge experience in Ballet, Italian Opera, and the symphonic recording industry.

Photo: Working with Maestro Conti and the IU Conductors Orchestra on the difficult Stravinsky's Ballet "Petrushka".

I assisted Maestro Conti previously and I knew how demanding he his in every single detail, with a rehearsal technique very similar to mine. Therefore in the case of this opera my role, was to assist and cover the conductor in whatever was necessary (usually conduct orchestra and singers as required and be the right hand of Maestro giving constantly notes to singers and orchestra). Therefore my preparation started in May to have the Opera ready to conduct and rehearse the first rehearsals as is usually done if the Maestro arrived late.

However, after the first weeks of the COVID-19 problem passed without a clear solution, the situation started to change. Now in the mind of all was, could we produce Opera in Fall 2020 when all the world is still trying to figure out how to live? I have to imagine that the summer days were a very difficult moment for the IU Opera Administrators, trying to arrive at a solution that could offer a viable opera in the middle of a pandemic. By this time, I only focused on learning the music in great detail to perform my role as an assistant conductor properly.

By the beginning of Fall 2020, the news arrived. Il Barbiere di Siviglia was moved to October-November instead of August-September. The Italian Maestro Marzio Conti could not come due to the travel restrictions to visitors that Indiana University created to protect the students, staff, and faculty. No one outside IU circle could come to the camps. Thankfully, IU Jacobs School of Music has an upstanding faculty with tons of experiences, and immediately the solution was available. The conductor will be either Maestro Arthur Fagen, the Chair of Opera and Orchestra Conducting Department of Jacobs School of Music at Indiana University. Who is my main professor in the Doctor Degree in Conducting at IU. He is current Music Director of Atlanta Opera and with opera conducting experiences at the world’s most prestigious opera houses including the Metropolitan Opera at the US and Vienna State Opera in Austria.

Photo: Learning all the traditions, stylistic approaches and conducting secret tips of Barber of Seville with Maestro Fagen... Yes, by Zoom!

Or Maestro Kevin Murphy, current professor of music in collaborative piano and director of coaching and music administration for IU Opera Theater at the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music. Current Artistic Director of Summer Opera Tel Aviv, Singers Director at Ravinia Festival and former Assistant Conductor of James Lavine at The Metropolitan Opera, and former Director of Musical Studies at Paris National Opera.