Friday, October 13, 2017

Rosina Heard 'Round the World

Sabina Puértolas is one of the sopranos interpreting the role of Rosina in Seattle Opera's The Barber of Seville.
 By Jessica Murphy Moo
Perhaps the first moment when we see that Rosina isn’t merely a helpless damsel in distress is in her first aria “Una voce poco fa.” She acknowledges that she is in love with Lindoro (who we know is the Count in disguise), and she sets her mind to winning him. “I’m gentle, I’m respectful, I’m obedient, sweet, loving,” she says, “but”—and this “but” is where we see her strength—“I’m a viper and I’ll set a hundred traps before giving up. I’ll make them fall.” Not a wallflower, our Rosina.

Sofia Fomina is one of the sopranos interpreting the role of Rosina in Seattle Opera's The Barber of Seville.
Still, she is stuck, and this situation, intensified by Rossini’s music, is where all the tension and frustration and—let’s face it—hilarity springs forth.

Sopranos Sabina Puértolas and Sofia Fomina are here making their Seattle Opera debuts in a role they both love. Puértolas, who is from Spain, describes Rosina as “very young, very Spanish” with a personality that is sunny and “like champagne.” Fomina, who is originally from Russia, calls the character clever, innocent, flirtatious, and “like fire.”
Costume design by Tracy Grant Lord
They also both think of Rosina as very young, and that her youth is perhaps both her shield and her strength. Her actions aren’t quite as premeditated as someone with a deeper understanding of the consequences ahead of her if she doesn’t escape from Bartolo and seize control of her own destiny. (Compare her to Gilda in Rigoletto, who is also held captive but has no escape.) Rosina knows what she wants and she goes for it, and she has a little fun at the expense of Bartolo along the way.

Puértolas is right at home playing the young girl in Spain because the role brings her back to an earlier carefree phase in her life. “My life is very normal, with my son and my husband, my cat, my dog,” she says. “With Rosina, I feel young again. I’m not Sabina, married with a son.” And despite Rossini’s Italian sensibilities, she feels that the opera evokes a wonderful sense of Spain’s character.
“We are very luminosos; we are very bright,” with a personality that she compares to a breath of fresh air. (An interesting tidbit about this production is that the creative team has decided to play up the opera’s “Spanish-ness.” We will see flamenco dancers and the crumbling aristocracy of Seville and other elements of Spain.)
Costume design by Tracy Grant Lord
Fomina is at home in this opera too, perhaps less because of the cultural elements and more because she loves singing bel canto roles. At Royal Opera Covent Garden, Fomina recently performed the pants role of Jemmy, in Rossini’s final opera William Tell. So Fomina has run the gamut with Rossini, and she’s hoping to take on more of those big bel canto roles and some lyric roles (Lucia, Violetta) as her voice and career continue to evolve.

These performances mark not only Fomina’s Seattle Opera debut, but also her US debut. In Russia, she says it is not uncommon to spend one’s entire career at a single house, but she realized early on that she wanted to follow a different path. She spent about eight years singing full-time with two companies in Germany, and she has recently changed to a freelance career where she is traveling the international stages. In some ways, she can identify with Rosina’s core desire to be free.
Costume design by Tracy Grant Lord
Puértolas began her career singing Spanish folk music in the north of Spain, and eventually went to a conservatory and narrowed her focus. She seems to have struck the work/life balance many can only hope to achieve. “My family pushes me to continue with my career. They are behind me. They help me. In my life, if I am happy, they are happy. It’s very important to me.” She admits that she is a positive person, and she is relieved to have the advantages of technology to bring her home and connections with her wherever she goes.

Fomina grew up in a musical family: her mother is a violinist and her father was a violinist and conductor from a small city outside of Moscow. And when she first went for her residency at Saarbrücken, she didn’t speak any languages other than Russian. She learned English and German, “and the world started opening up to me.” The director there introduced her to the director at the Royal Opera House, and the opportunities to perform on world stages continued from there.
Two of the costumes for Rosina. Costume design by Tracy Grant Lord
Puértolas loves to sing at the theaters that make her feel at home. For her that is Royal Opera Covent Garden, Teatro Real, and Bruxelles. After Seattle, she will return home to Spain to sing in Barcelona and Madrid, and then on to Toulouse. Fomina comes to us from Toulouse where she performed Berthe in Meyerbeer’s Le prophète, and then heads to Royal Opera Covent Garden. But for now, their home is Seattle, and we look forward to delighting in the antics and the coloratura of their sunny and fiery Rosinas.

Seattle Opera's The Barber of Seville plays through Oct. 28, 2017 at McCaw Hall.
Tickets & info: seattleopera.org/barber