By CB Adams

The poppy, exuberant experience of Opera Theatre of St. Louis’s production of “The Barber of Seville” begins well before the opening notes of the overture. Fluttering above Andrew Boyce’s beachy-colored set are a pair of scene-stealing neon lips.

There are more lips to come, from a version of Salvatore Dali’s Mae West red sofa, to the overhead toothy red lips made famous during the opening of the “Rocky Horror Picture Show” movie, and even to the inflated labia on the Lipps Inc. “Funkytown” album cover.

As Count Almaviva, pretending to be Lindoro, sings to Rosina in the first act, “…your name is on my lips, and you are in my thoughts, from early dawn till late at night.” Those lines perfectly sum up the premise for “The Barber of Seville” while merriment and mayhem ensue until the last moment in this comic opera.

Boyce’s set design and Marcus Doshi’s lighting give us a Seville, Spain by way of Ibiza and Miami. Their less-is-more approach places a premium on the details, such as the canary yellow wall with a simple balcony and hand-operated openings, the Moorish-patterned floor, and a ruby-red barber chair shaped like an upturned hand.

L to R: Nathan Stark as Dr. Bartolo, Patrick Carfizzi as Don Basilio, Hongni Wu as Rosina, Andrew Morstein as Count Almaviva, Justin Austin as Figaro, and Chase Sanders as Berta/Notary in Gioachino Rossini’s “The Barber of Seville.” Photo © Eric Woolsey

The minimalist set is the perfect backdrop to the more-is-more approach of Linly Saunders’s costumes and the wigs and makeup provided by Krystal Balleza and Will Vicari. At the risk of a spoiler alert, the entrance of a character wearing outrageously large, billowing pantaloons is one of the performance’s best moments.

Also noteworthy is the way stage director and choreographer Eric Sean Fogel makes great and clever use of Doshi’s lighting on the small cast to create shadowplay that exponentially increases the chaos during certain key scenes. 

All of the singers in this production deliver their characters with technical prowess, theatrical flair, spot-on comedic timing and expressive acting that match the opera’s humor and complexity.

Justin Austin provides a plucky, charismatic Figaro that is equal parts Austin Powers, Artful Dodger, and Placido Domingo. Nathan Stark’s overbearing Dr. Bartolo shares DNA with both Daddy Warbucks and Big Daddy.

During Count Almaviva’s arias, Andrew Morestein confidently sings Rossini’s virtuosic runs with a seamless blend of lyrical beauty and vocal acrobatics. Hongni Wu dazzles as an assertive Rosina, particularly in the demanding coloratura passages that require precision and agility.

Justin Austin as Figaro and Nathan Stark as Dr. Bartolo in Gioachino Rossini’s “The Barber of Seville.” Photo © Eric Woolsey

As the conniving Don Basilio, Patrick Carfizzi’s booming bass commands the stage, especially during his aria about the joys of spreading malicious gossip.

Yet another highlight of this performance is, of course, the music. Under the direction of Jonathan Brandani, the St. Louis Symphony captures Rossini’s vibrant, playful melodies filled with dynamic rhythms and memorable, spirited tunes. Adding another layer of enjoyment is the clear translation under the coaching of English diction specialist Erie Mills.  

Performances, in English with projected English text, continue through June 29th at the Loretto-Hilton Center on the Webster University campus. For more information, consult the OTSL website:

Cover photo by Eric Woolsey

Justin Austin, Andrew Morstein and Hongnu Wu. Photo by Eric Woolsey
Nathan Stark as Dr. Bartolo and Andrew Morstein as Count Almaviva in Gioachino Rossini’s “The Barber of Seville.” Photo © Eric Woolsey