Pike Place Market.jpg

The changes are superficial. really. The cap, maybe the cap is new, though it's hard to say. There's a 15-year gap between the picture on the left and the middle one. But the gent wearing the cap, John Sollid, hasn't changed all that much, and neither has his vision of what the Pike Place Market is all about: a playful, primary-colors world of carrots and eggplants, of tulips and sunflowers and stems of purple iris. A green farm truck unloading its wares on Pike Place; tugboats and sailboats in Elliott Bay, zebras and bears in the zoo, salmon in the streams, and, above all, the optimistic, good-natured view of the world expressed through linoleum cut, block prints on greeting cards, tee shirts, and Seattle watercolors.

The language of Sollid's art, of views of the Market's iconic Public Market and Meet the Producer signs, is sophisticated but unpretentious. He's been selling at the Market since 1973, one of its longest-serving artists, but every day he goes through the same routine of reserving a spot (fees start at $12.50 for mid-week in winter), then maximizing his allotted four feet of counter space. He started life in eastern Washington, taught English in high school and college, then moved to Seattle and ran a small poetry press. His wife at the time worked on Charley Royer's mayoral campaigns and chaired the Seattle Arts Commission. And John--to our community's everlasting fortrune--turned to the visual arts. He no longer lives in Seattle proper; his neighbors grew tired of the trucks delivering art supplies, blank stationery, envelopes, onesies, and paints. So he moved to Poulsbo and commutes. Poulsbo's a scenic spot, too, but it doesn't have thousands of souvenir-hunting tourists passing his four-foot storefront every day.

Francois Kissel.jpgHalf a century ago, when French food was being cooked up on television by Julia Child (a proper Bostonian,) François Kissel set up shop in a soup kitchen at First and Yesler in a space previously known as the Pittsburgh Lunch; he named it the Brasserie Pittsbourg. You'd descend a few stairs and be greeted by a glorious aroma unlike anything known to Seattle at the time: a billow of steam from the cafeteria line bearing a cloud of onions, garlic, rosemary, thyme, warm bread, and simmering chicken stock. Braised short ribs; veal chop with kidneys; sweetbreads, brains, beef tenderloin with tarragon-flavored béarnaise sauce; Provençe;al leg of lamb redolent with garlic.

As part of dinner, a salad with a vinaigrette mixed by François behind locked doors (secret ingredient: sugar) and capped with a feather-light chocolate mousse. François and his wife, Julia, opened two more places (the City Loan Pavilion and Maximlien in the Market) before the Brasserie closed its doors in the late 1990s. The landlord transformed the space into an antique mall.

As his health deteriorated and his kidneys failed, François returned to his family home on the French Atlantic coast, north of Bordeaux. And last month, after years of painful dialysis, François passed away. He is survived, in Seattle, by his widow, Julia Gunn Kissel, and a brother, Jean-Paul Kissel.

John Moore as Figaro.jpg

John Moore as Figaro, Seattle Opera photo © Philip Newton

Purple jumpsuit for the barber, Figaro, check. Flowing locks, check. Elvis wig for Dr. Bartolo, check. Passing references to Elton John, to a chorus line of Kingston Trio types in red blazers, and so on. Gioachino Rossini composed all this (and more) before his 25th birthday; Barber has all the exuberance of youth, not to mention the Down-Under irreverence of its director and designer.

The bel canto music lends itself to comedy, sometimes at its peril. Certainly there's no more needlessly wacky number than "Mi par d'esser con la testa" at the end of Act One. Seattle's own burlesque star Waxie Moon (real name: Marc Kenison) turns up in pink, dancing a jig, at the final curtain. Check, please! The assorted onstage antics were created by the Australian stage director Lindy Hume. Her artistic colleague, New Zealander Tracy Grant Lord, designed the production, which was imported from Queensland Opera in Brisbane and moves on next year to New Zealand Opera.

As almost always happens in screwball comedy, the voice of reason is given to the housemaid, sung here by Margaret Gawrsiak, and played as a lovesick shlub until she's rescued by Waxie Moon.

The principal plot (such as it is) involves the feisty young Rosina, in love with dashing Count Almaviva but shackled by her lecherous old guardian, Dr. Bartolo. Plenty of familiar music: Figaro's "Largo al factotum" by John Moore, proclaims himself a tireless jack-of-all-trades; Sabina Pertolas's "Una voce poco fa;" Don Basilio's scheming "La Calumnia" (shades of the alt-right smear campaigns), not to mention the nutso Act One closer.

Only Matthew Grills as Count Almaviva disappointed; his thin tenor falls short of the standard created by Lawrence Brownlee, who sang the role here six seasons ago. What we had then was the opera's original conclusion: the aristocratic Almaviva dressing down the scheming Bartolo for his treatment of poor Rosina. Rossini recycled the music at the end of La Cenerentola as "Non più mesta"--no more housework! It's not a funny bit, though, so just as well the aria was cut in this production.

In the end, of course, love conquers all. Waxie Moon gets it on with Berta, the housemaid. Almaviva weds Rosina. The villainous Dr. Bartolo sputters and fumes while Figaro bounces off to his next adventure. It's an opera without a mean bone in its body, The Barber of Silly, perhaps, or Civility, if you prefer.

Hey, the erudite Melinda Bargreen's review is here, though it may require a double-barreled assault on the Seattle Times pay wall.

Seattle Opera presents The Barber of Seville through October 28th.


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