Friday night live: Mr. Scatter gets a shave

By Bob Hicks

Mr. Scatter is all lathered up in the lobby of Keller Auditorium, and Mrs. Scatter is at his side, underneath one of those big-bubble hairdrying doohickies. Each of us is posting live on opening night of Portland Opera’s “The Barber of Seville.” We’ll be updating our respective posts as time allows, so if you read them early, check back: There’ll be more.

"The Barber of Seville." Photo: Cory Weaver/Portland Opera


Famous barbers in history:

Sal “The Barber” Maglie, star pitcher for the Giants, Indians and Dodgers in the 1940s and ’50s, so nicknamed for his eagerness to brush back hitters with high inside fastballs in the vicinity of the jaw and neck. In baseball parlance, he gave ’em a close shave with a little chin music.

Benjamin Barker, a skilled bladesman from Fleet Street in London, who, after being frightfully wronged by a corrupt judge, took to a life of crime as the infamous “demon barber” Sweeney Todd, casually slitting his customers’ throats so his accomplice, Mrs. Lovett, could grind ’em up and pop ’em into meat pies.

Samuel Barber, American composer of works including Knoxville: Summer of 1915. In photographs he appears graciously clean-shaven.

— Figaro, the clever schemer of Seville, whose comic adventures among the rich and dissolute are celebrated in two of our greatest operas, Rossini’s 1816 The Barber of Seville and Mozart’s 1786 The Marriage of Figaro. A little confusingly, Marriage is a sequel to Barber, even though it premiered 30 years earlier. The mixup straightens out once you realize that both operas were based on even earlier plays by Pierre Beaumarchais.

It’s The Barber of Seville that brings us to the lobby of the Keller Auditorium tonight, where Portland Opera has invited us to blog on our impressions of the opening night performance of its new production.

Who are we?

— Mrs. Scatter, aka Laura Grimes, co-conspirator of this very blog, who is entering her own version of the evening’s events in another post right here at Art Scatter. I’ll be fascinated to read it once I’ve finished my own. Can this marriage be shaved?

— Brandi Parisi, morning host at All Classical Radio 89.9FM, and no doubt intimately familiar with the territory. She’ll be posting on All Classical’s Facebook page.

— Mike Russell, writer, cartoonist and proprietor of the brilliant CulturePulp, who’ll be creating a cartoon report on his evening at the opera.

— Mr. Scatter, aka me, Bob Hicks.



Back from the backstage tour, led once again (as it was when Mr. Scatter blogged about Orphee) by director of production Laura Hassell, urbane in a nifty gray pinstripe suit. A bit of what we gleaned:

— The production started at Minnesota Opera, where tonight’s director, Portland Opera’s Christopher Mattaliano, directed it. Sets, costumes, most of the props come from there. CM also directed it in Omaha (that production was broadcast on PBS) and Austin, and it’s been elsewhere, including Washington National Opera, which co-owns the production. Like Barber itself, this production’s been around.

— It’s a period production (the opera premiered in 1816) and meant to look that way — very theatrical, with a shallow stage that shoves the action all downstage, a rake, lots and lots of ropes and pulleys, and a false proscenium. A big portrait of Rossini sits onstage, and to heighten the sense of being at the theater, a toy theater and some marionettes hang from the rafters.

— All of those ropes backstage, of course, have specific purposes, and they’re marked for the crew. What some of the labels say: “Portal Legs.” “Chandelier.” “#2 black legs.” “Grid hangers.” “Boudoir drop.” “Rossini portrait.” “Salon drop.” We’re hoping the boudoir doesn’t drop on the #2 black legs.

— The smallish orchestra (about 48 musicians) will feature a harpsichord built by Byron Will of Centralia, Wash., and despite the Keller’s size — it has 3,000 seats — the harpsichord won’t need to be miked. Mr. Scatter, who was born in Centralia, did not realize the town was a center of harpsichord craftsmanship. He did know it’s the hometown of the late, great Merce Cunningham. Plus, it has a Starbucks that comes in handy on that nasty drive north to Seattle. Well done, Byron Will!

— Mr. Scatter is darned near certain Mrs. Scatter will fill you in on the company mascot. She will also probably mention our chat with our friend Bob Kingston, who gives the opera’s pre-show talks, and who showed up for Barber looking resplendent with a clean-shaven head. He’d had it shaved as part of the city’s annual fund-raiser for kids with cancer, an event that raised, he said, $108,000. He also mentioned that about 43 women had their heads shaved for the cause. Most excellent!

— A gentleman has just stopped by.

“Whatcha doin’, blogging?” he said.

“That’s right.”

“What is blogging, anyway?”

Mr. Scatter handed him the little sheet of paper that explains it all. “Call up these sites after the show and you can find out.”

“Whatcha got to write about? The show hasn’t started yet.”

“They gave us a backstage tour,” Mrs. Scatter chimed in. “We’re writing about that.”

“Why would you wanna do that?”

“They give us free wine and pretzels,” Mr. Scatter explained.

“Make it free bourbon and pretzels and it might be worth it.”

“We could have bourbon, but then you wouldn’t want to read what we write.”

“Do you hafta just say nice things?”

“We have carte blanche to say anything we want to,” Mrs. Scatter replied.

“You got carte blanche?” Mr. Scatter exclaimed. “Nobody gave me carte blanche! Where’s my carte blanche?”

We also have salted nuts and little chocolate chip cookies. Ah, the blogging life!

It’s now 7:24, and curtain’s at 7:30. Better wrap this up until halftime.



It’s halftime, and everything’s in a pickle. But then, that’s Rossini’s bread and butter. Let’s see, now. The cops have just burst in, and just as they’re about to arrest Count Almaviva (who is pretending to be a poor student who’s pretending to be a drunken army officer) the count flashes the Ring of Power, and everybody freezes. Cold. Curtain.

The Barber of Seville
, people say, is a warhorse. Can’t think of it that way: Wagner does warhorses. A chestnut, maybe. I’m OK with that. The moment the overture began I was reminded of what a cool thing actual melody can be, and this opera comes from a time when melody (and elaboration) was king. Wit, charm, ebullience. Mr. Scatter has been involved with many things new of late, and new is good, if not always that good. But the old and good, the matured, the ripened, the wise — ah!

Flounce. Mr. Scatter must write the word “flounce,” because Jennifer Rivera as Rosina does it so well, and so, really, does this production. It’s no surprise that brothers Frasier and Niles Crane in the situation comedy Frasier were such opera nuts, because Frasier itself shared with this kind of opera the splendid artificiality that breaks out at the oddest times into intense truths.

Time to go. More after the show.



Friends, that was nice. That was good. That was delightful. Mr. Scatter does not mean for this to be a formal review. He will leave it to the music critics to parse the details, and is eager to read what they have to say. (James McQuillen will be reviewing for The Oregonian.) But a few words come to mind, such as: precision, farce, skill. This production is easy, and easy is the hardest thing in the theater to be.

This is a young cast, but it has great flexibility and fine voice — not just the sort of voice that is studiously up to the challenge, but the sort that rides above the challenge and plays with it. Good acting has been a hallmark of this season at Portland Opera, and this may be the best-acted of the bunch, with a mastery of the tight turns and mock desperations of farce. Here are the names: Nicholas Phan as Count Almaviva, Daniel Belcher as Figaro, Steven Condy as the fatuous Doctor Bartolo, the aforementioned Jennifer Rivera as Rosina, with excellent character turns by Arthur Woodley as Don Basilio, Jose Rubio as Fiorello, and Metropolitan Opera fave Judith Christin as the maid Berta.

Quibbles? All right, I didn’t quite buy the dry-ice dream scene, and even with the action moved forward on the stage, the sound sometimes gets swallowed by the cavernous Keller. Small potatoes, friends.

With Barber, Portland Opera has gone to the well. And maybe it’s almost 200 years old, but the water’s fresh and good.

Good night.


ILLUSTRATION: From left, Daniel Belcher (Figaro), Arthur Woodley (Basilio), Jennifer Rivera (Rosina), Nicholas Phan (Count Almaviva), and Steven Condy (Dr. Bartolo) in Portland Opera’s new production of “The Barber of Seville.” Photo: Portland Opera/Cory Weaver.