Barbershop Talk with Figaro: Meet Andrew Wilkowske
At the center of On Site Opera’s The Barber of Seville is our very own barber: baritone Andrew Wilkowske! Andrew (and his guitar) will be making his On Site Opera debut as Paisiello’s poet-turned-barber. We caught up with him to find out his thoughts on all things Figaro — including who he’s reading, what he’s drinking, and what he’s listening to. Don’t forget to check out the playlist to hear some of his favorites!
• OSO: What was the first opera you ever saw?
AW: The first opera I saw was The Pearl Fishers….In German!!! I was on a choir tour in Austria and Germany and we saw a really wacky production — there was no set, just a shiny black floor and one big trapeze hanging in the middle. I had NO idea what was going on!!!
OSO: Name from an opera…Your favorite:
• OSO: Aria?
AW: It changes daily. Today it’s Nixon’s “News” aria — “News has a kind of mystery” from Nixon in China.
•OSO: Love duet?
AW: Does “A Little Priest” from Sweeney Todd count as a love duet? Haha.
AW: The Act II finale from Le Nozze di Figaro will always be my favorite. The final scene/duet from Eugene Onegin is pretty spectacular, though! And I’ve also been listening to Jenufa recently, and the final scene of that is pretty amazing as well.
AW: Hmmm…..Eleanor Steber and Placido Domingo. Baritone honorable mention goes to Lawrence Tibbett.
• OSO: Do you play any instruments? If yes, what instruments?
AW: I play guitar, as we will see in this show. I can sort of noodle around on the piano a bit, and I’ve made threats to my family about buying a drum set.
• OSO: Favorite cocktail?
AW: I’m a beer enthusiast and home brewer, but my favorite cocktail is a Rye Manhattan. To go along with my wry sense of humor.
• OSO: Last book you read?
AW: “Miles: The Autobiography” by Miles Davis and Quincy Troupe.
•OSO: Is this your first time performing Paisiello’s music?
• OSO: Have you performed in the Rossini Barber? If so, what are the differences you note between the two Barbers?
AW: Yes, I have sung Figaro in both Rossini’s Barber and also Mozart’s Nozze. The Paisiello Barber is really interesting — I think it stays a little more faithful to Beaumarchais’ play than the Rossini does. Rossini creates a colorful, almost superhero-type of character who can accomplish anything. The Paisiello Figaro is a little more down-to-earth, a little more real and true to the Beaumarchais character. He has no qualms about praising his own abilities, but prefaces them with a detailed account of his failures. He struggles. It’s a real treat to get to do it.
• OSO: The subtitle of the opera is “The Useless Precaution.” Have you ever taken, what you feel like, are useless precautions? Has the result been as comedic as in the opera?
AW: As the father of two kids, I feel like my life is full of useless precautions. Like making sure your toddler’s pacifier has been carefully washed and rinsed, and then he takes it out and shoves a handful of dirt in his mouth. Stuff like that mostly.
• OSO: Beaumarchais characters from his “Figaro Trilogy” are some of the most beloved in all of opera. What excites you most about performing Paisiello’s version in a site-specific production?
AW: We are accustomed to hearing opera in a cavernous auditorium. Getting the chance to hear operatic voices in such an intimate setting is incredibly thrilling, and the Fabbri Mansion is the perfect setting. When Eric showed me the space, it looked like it came right out of the opera. We are truly putting the audience in the midst of the action. It’s a terrific idea.
• OSO: What is the greatest music-related advice you’ve ever been given?
AW: I had a director who told me, “Don’t sing the notes, sing the words. For in the words lay the meaning, and in the meaning lays the music.”
• OSO: Besides On Site’s Barber, what projects are coming up next for you?
AW: I’m playing Papageno in the visually stunning Barrie Kosky production of The Magic Flute with the Berlin Komische Oper and Minnesota Opera this fall, and returning to Boston Lyric Opera to sing Baron Zeta in The Merry Widow.
Check out the playlist below to hear some the music mentioned in Andrew’s interview!
Baritone Andrew Wilkowske, whose voice has been described as “nimble,” with an “impressively open top,” is one of the most versatile performers on the stage today. His recent performance of La Rocca in Verdi’s King For a Day at Glimmerglass Festival was called “superb” by The New York Times and “brought impressive command to the text” according to The Wall Street Journal. Highlights this season include the world premiere of Lucy by John Glover and Kelley Rourke with Milwaukee Opera Theatre; Dr. Dulcamara in L’Elisir D’Amore with Minnesota Opera; the critically acclaimed rock recital Guns N’ Rosenkavalier with 5 Boroughs Music Festival; Ponchel in the Pulitzer Prize-winning Silent Night with Lyric Opera of Kansas City, a role he created in 2011 with Minnesota Opera and has reprised with Opera Philadelphia and Cincinnati Opera and concerts with Minnesota Bach Ensemble, Schubert Club and Minnesota Orchestra. www.andrewwilkowske.com