Kevin Glavin may admit he’s “feeling it now” when he considers how long he’s been performing opera, but will just as quickly say he’s never sounded better. Glavin, who began his career with Pittsburgh Opera at the age of 25, has been a local favorite since his debut in 1985. Playing basso buffo roles—the comedic relief in opera productions—Glavin has become just as admired for his powerful voice as his funnyman schtick.
Glavin plays the role of Bartolo, the heel in a love triangle at the center of The Barber of Seville, which celebrated its opening night on April 2nd at the Benedum Center.
However, despite a career now spanning over three decades, Glavin wasn’t always so committed to opera. His love of music came from his father, a union leader in Pittsburgh’s North Side who mostly sang in bars and, ironically, as a barbershop singer. Growing up with that influence, Glavin envisioned himself as part of the Rat Pack, perhaps singing in Vegas. Certainly not in the theatre.
“The only thing I knew about opera was that it was boring,” he laughs. “I didn’t want to do something like that, it’s too serious.”
With that in mind, Glavin learned of the comic roles he has since perfected, particularly while playing in Barber of Seville.
“I’ve been in two, three productions [of Barber] every year since 1988.”
With countless variations under his belt, Glavin knows the score inside and out, as well as how to play his roles to make them work for every new show. In fact, for a recent production in Florida, Glavin broke his ankle but still found a way to bring out laughs.
“My doctor wanted me off my feet for six weeks and I said, ‘Well I have to do a show.’” Glavin says. “He put me a hard cast, then [at the theatre] I notice they had an old, wooden wheelchair on set…I asked if it worked and the director said it did. I said, ‘Get me in that thing!’”
The director of that production didn’t believe Glavin could still perform, but as he started playing scenes, wheeling around the set, it became obvious that the buffo had found a way to make the role even funnier.
“Before each show they were supposed to tell the audience that I’d broken my ankle, but they never did because it made the director look good! ‘Oh look! I put Bartolo in a wheelchair!’”
It’s that kind of ingenuity that keeps Barber of Seville alive, not just for Glavin, but for audiences everywhere. This latest Pittsburgh production sets itself in 1950’s Hollywood, with Glavin’s Bartolo modeled after Louis B. Mayer, the infamous theater-owner and co-founder of MGM studios known for his shrewd business sense (A famous quote of his was, “Be smart, but never show it”).
Beyond the updated productions, The Barber of Seville‘s lively score (which many might remember from a Bugs Bunny cartoon that is cleverly referenced during the upcoming Pittsburgh shows) has been recognizable since its first performances in the 1800’s. It has remained memorable for centuries, and Kevin Glavin is grateful to be a part of such memories.
“I really love opera now, and I finally get it,” Glavin says. “It’s like coffee; you acquire a taste.”