9 questions with Regina Davis from Asheville Lyric Opera’s “Barber of Seville”

Regina Davis as Rosina in The Barber of Seville. Photo courtesy of the artist

Asheville Lyric Opera stages its latest production, The Barber of Seville, at the Diana Wortham Auditorium Friday and Sunday, Oct. 23 and 25. The opera by Gioachino Rossini dates back to 1816 and follows the story of a number of characters to do crazy things in the name of love. NPR called it “the perfect, operatic comedy,” but fans for the past 200 years have been saying the same.

Western North Carolina-born mezzo soprano Regina Davis stars as Rosina in the local show (with Todd Barnhill as Count Almaviva, Adrian Smith as Don Basilio and José Rubio as Figaro, with Dan Allcott conducting and Jon Truitt directing). For Davis, the performance is also a homecoming as she is currently based in Europe. In advance of the show, she talks to Xpress about life in The Netherlands and why she’s excited to sing the part of Rosina.

Xpress: What brought you to The Netherlands — your marriage or your music career?

Regina Davis: In 2010, my best friend from [university], who was studying her masters in Salzburg, offered to buy me a ticket to Europe. I had just quit my full-time day job and had the time to travel and pursue solely an operatic/music career. I traveled to Europe for the audition tour, starting in Austria, then to Germany, the Netherlands and Switzerland. I landed a job in Amsterdam with The National Opera Studio of the Netherlands. I met my husband in 2011 after having worked in Amsterdam for a year. We knew immediately that we wanted to get married and were quickly engaged, but waited for two years before we tied the knot.

Are you involved in music and/or theater in the Netherlands? What’s it like, and what’s a major difference from working in music and/or theater in the US?

Yes, I am involved in operatic theater in Europe. It’s quite similar actually, but I think the style of stage direction in the Netherlands is where the differences are the most exaggerated. The Dutch Opera is known for its modern productions. In a production I did of Montiverdi’s L’orfeo, we improvised the opera for 30 days before we ever staged it. That style of progressive acting was quite new to me. Also, we did a lot more with body awareness than I had ever used before in the US. Classical style productions are unfortunately hard to find in Western European houses. I wish there were more of them, but the Western houses are looking for modern settings and interpretations of hundred year-old operas that will speak to the audience of today.

You have other ties between Asheville and The Netherlands — can you share them?

Yes. I was born in Jackson county and grew up in Transylvania. I traveled a lot for work to other parts of the US and the world, and was a resident of Colorado for four years, but WNC is where my roots are and my family still lives here.

After having lived and worked in the Netherlands for three years, I married in Western North Carolina. It just seemed logical to have my parents give me away on my home turf, even though we chose to reside in the Netherlands full time. We asked my husband’s sister to be our florist. She was a professional florist in the Netherlands and the Dutch are internationally know for their excellence in flowers. During the wedding preparations, she met my brother, a native of WNC and a folk musician. They fell madly in love and married a year later. Too funny!

How often are you able to return to the Asheville area?

I make it back to the Asheville area to visit family about once a year, so this is really special to come back to sing with the Lyric Opera.

How did you get involved with the Asheville Lyric Opera production of The Barber of Seville?

I’m singing Rosina, the female lead. This is a role I had sung before and had been hoping to sing again soon. It’s vocally very demanding and written for mezzo sopranos with low notes and high notes and fast coloratura. David Starkey, artistic director of the Asheville Lyric Opera, and I have been in touch over the years and this was a great fit for me to come back. I had worked with Jon Truitt (the director of Barber of Seville) in The Marriage of Figaro back in 2009. Doing another Figaro opera with Jon is just a delight!

Are you able to rehearse remotely, or do rehearsals happen right before the production opens?

We all study, coach and memorize our parts before the opera starts. We come to the first rehearsal completely off book. We have two weeks of intensive rehearsals before the show begins. The first week we stage it so we know what we are doing, and the second week we perfect it.

Tell us a little bit about Rosina.

Rosina is a confident and spirited young woman. She is looking for adventure. She is witty and quick on her feet. She is young and quick to believe (not gullible), yet she has a boldness and courage to her. She isn’t naive, but rather just lives by following her heart. She is strong and quite independent. This could be because she is an orphan (although that fact is not clearly stated in the story). And, therefore, she has had to learn an independence based on necessity, but I think it is also apparent that she is very well raised and definitely a well-mannered lady despite her circumstances. Her first action in the opera is to ask Lindoro/Count Almaviva about his intentions. I think that really speaks to her view of herself. She considers herself a lady. She is a woman who clearly knows what she wants and what she is looking for. She is really looking for the right man to rescue her from her situation, but she is not willing to let just anyone rescue her. So, she is not desperate.

The story of The Barber of Seville is that Rosina is a captive in the house of her guardian, Dr. Bartolo. Her parents are not mentioned, but it is clear that her guardian would like to marry her for her beauty and her dowry. The Count desires to wed her, but can’t get into the house to see her because Rosina is kept under lock and key. So the Count hires Figaro to help secure their love and get him in contact with Rosina. Rosina is madly in love with the Count, but doesn’t know he is a Count. [She] believes him to be a poor student and cousin to Figaro.

What is your favorite song to perform in this production?

This is a tough question. The show is full of really funny and special moments. Too many.

Besides performing with Asheville Lyric Opera, what are you most looking forward to while you’re back in WNC?

It’s wonderful to see my family again and to get into the woods for a long fall hike through the gorgeous fall colors. I’m an avid hiker, runner and biker. I love being deep in the mountains. In the busy rehearsal time before the opera when there is little free time, I love just enjoying the great food and beer that Asheville has to offer. It has grown so much over the years.

About Alli Marshall
Alli Marshall is the arts section editor at Mountain Xpress. She's lived in Asheville for more than 20 years and loves live music, visual art, fiction and friendly dogs. Alli is the winner of the 2016 Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize and the author of the novel "How to Talk to Rockstars," published by Logosophia Books. Follow me @alli_marshall

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