A Couple Regular Guys Do Opera
The two stars of Florentine’s ‘Barber of Seville’ are as down-to- earth as you can get.
Two of the performers in Florentine Opera’s The Barber of Seville are ordinary guys with backgrounds similar to kids you grew up with.
Baritone Luis Orozco is a Texas native, born in El Paso, Texas. His family soon moved across the border to Juarez, Mexico. “I know it’s changed a lot since I was there, a lot more scary these days. But at first it was just like El Paso.”
Orozco says the family made their way back to Texas when things started to get “dicey” in Mexico. “Despite the dangers we had a nice life,” Orozco says. The love for music struck him early. His first band was ‘Famous Last Words,’ where he sat behind the skins and laid down the tempo for the group on the drums. “My first kit was a Yamaha Advantage Stage Custom,” he says. He’s 32 now, but the youthful days in that band are great memories.
Orozco still has the drum kit after all these years, tucked away somewhere in his parent’s house. “I can’t find the time to play it but I can’t bring myself to sell it.”
Oddly, he didn’t sing in the band when drumming. He says he wasn’t comfortable with the multitasking. During rehearsals for this show, Orozco says some of his down time is spent in hotel rooms jamming with cast mates. “It’s nice to be able to let other people play the guitar when I can sing,” he says.
The band toured a lot in the southwest, just a collection of guys from high school. “We really improved when we found our singer, Nichole Smith,” Orozco says. “She had an amazing voice and we toured with a kind of Beach Boys pop sound. But Texas style.”
His first exposure to the opera world was in El Paso. “It’s kind of funny because the opera scene was really popular around there then it started to go down in popularity just as I was getting into it. It went through some lean years but they’re trying to rebuild it. It’s hard to convince an audience in a city to care about opera, but they’re reaching out to the cities.”
Orozco first learned about opera while laughing. “I did learn about the The Barber of Seville watching the Bugs Bunny cartoons,” Orozco says. “The Warner Brothers cartoons used a lot of the classics.”
Rabbit of Seville is a Warner Brothers Loony Tunes cartoon released in 1950. The gags are accompanied by musical arrangements by Carl Stalling focusing on Rossini’s overture to The Barber of Seville. Orozco has played Figaro before, most recently with the Syracuse Opera Company, but is looking forward to his performance with the Florentine, his debut with the company.
The Barber of Seville is Orozco’s first gig in Milwaukee. When he goes to a new city, Orozco says he loves to take in the sites, but it’s not always possible. “It depends on the role I’m doing,” he says. “If I find the role challenging, I tend to be more of a hermit, watch what I eat. You just have to be on top of what you have to do.”
Orozco says if doesn’t eat properly or sleep well, his performance will suffer.
“My body will just refuse to work for me. I lose agility and speed, and this is a fast show. Rossini wrote this piece with rapid lines, but that’s good for me. It’s in my wheelhouse.”
When Orozco first auditioned for the Florentine’s General Director Bill Florescu in 2014, he sang a Mozart piece. “I didn’t get the role at the time, but Bill liked my audition and kept me in his mental Rolodex and called me for this show. Had my audition in the back of his head. I went to see the Flying Dutchman, when the Florentine put that on.I thought it was fantastic. It was one of those productions where you see it and you say to yourself, ‘Wow, I really hope I get to work here.”
Are there times when a cast doesn’t gel or get along? Sure. But Orozco says that’s not so with this show. “The Barber of Seville is an ensemble show. We all get along and that’s important for the show. The experience with this show is the most fun I’ve ever had with a cast.”
“I learn a lot from each show I do,” Orozco says. “I learn from the other cast members. This cast is very seasoned, very familiar with their roles. Makes me feel like a kid in a candy store.
The Cincinnati Enquirer says Orozco “has an imposing presence, both vocally and dramatically.”
So, what does Orozco think about in the few seconds before he makes his entrance? “It’s funny. Rossini puts the hardest vocal parts right up front, so I’m thinking of that off the bat. But it’s fun. The first tune is the one he’s most recognized for. So, I think about that and also tell myself not to screw up. I’m constantly aware of my overwhelming respect and awe for the material.”
When the curtain closes Orozco says a singer can nitpick just about anything regarding their performance. “I always try to come out with something positive. I look at the show as a team effort instead of serving myself.”
Taylor Stayton is a tenor and plays Count Almaviva in the show. He echoes Orozco’s sentiments about the seasoned cast and heaps praise on Florescu: “Bill’s direction is amazing, he’s doing the best thing he could possibly do–letting the text and music speak for themselves.”
He says this cast feels so comfortable with each other they can afford to mess around during rehearsals. Stayton says he spends a lot of time taking pictures of other cast members during rehearsal, and they chide him for that.
When he was young, Stayton says he played a lot of different instruments. “I was like jack of all trades, master of none. I can play every instrument you could think of. I almost double majored as a trombone player.”
He grew up in Sidney, Ohio, not too far from Dayton. His first opera experience didn’t go that well. “We went to see Aida at the Schuster Center, a huge theater. I slept through ninety percent of the show.”
Particularly well regarded in bel canto roles, Stayton’s engagements include Percy (Anna Bolena) and Elvino (La sonnambula) for New York’s Metropolitan Opera, ands his current role of Count Almaviva for Opera Philadelphia, Opéra de Lille and Deutsche Oper Berlin.
Opera News says Stayton’s laser-bright timbre boasts an exceptional fluidity above the staff and is probably ideally displayed in Rossini.”
As a kid, Stayton was into Motown music, Crosby, Stills and Nash. “I went to school for vocal performance, even though I didn’t even know what that really was. I knew I wanted to perform and was pretty good at opera.”
With support from his parents, Stayton says he knew he had to give opera a chance. “I don’t know if they knew I’d be successful, but they knew I had some talent. They believed if you have talent, you should go for it.”
Like Orazco, Stayton is 32 years old and realizes there is a shelf-life for performing for most singers. “Everyone is different. If you don’t sing with proper technique you can cut your career short. On the other hand, Domingo began to sing baritone because he couldn’t sing tenor any more. Some performers are able to adapt.”
What would he do if he could no longer sing? “I’m not qualified to do anything else,” he joked. “Right now I’m just glad I’m doing this. I’ll sing as long as I can, teach if I can without going back to school. I’m not a math or science guy, so my prospects are limited.”
Performers travel the world, eat at great restaurants. But Stayton says it’s not always as glamorous as you might think. “My wife was a bit jealous,” he says. “But one time I took her on the road with me and she looked at me and told me how boring it was.” To pass the time, he says bingeing on Netflix helps.
Stayton likes the character of the Count. “If you read about the show, you realize he’s royalty. He’s about the same age as Figaro, but a little more worldly. He’s street smart. If you needed something, the Count is a guy that knows a guy that could get it done. He’s the best ‘wing man’ on earth. But it’s an exhausting role.”
Stayton says he really appreciates the opportunity to do what he loves. Sometimes while working, “If I’m standing next to someone I’ll say to them, ‘Can we just say how cool this is? People pay us money to do this.”
The Barber of Seville will be presented May 5 & 7 at Uihlein Hall at the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts.