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People's Daily Online>>Life & Culture

A close shave

By James Tiscione (Global Times)

13:18, November 29, 2011

"Largo al Factotum" ring a bell? Here's a clue: - "Figaro! Figaro! Figaro!" Thanks to movies, cartoons and ads worldwide, that recognition for a 195-year-old tune proves opera's greatest triumphs are ingrained in our collective consciousness whether we know them or not - and nothing sets off the light bulbs like Rossini.

Which makes it all the more remarkable that, after a four-day run of the NCPA (National Centre for the Performing Arts) Opera-Castleton Festival (US) co-production of The Barber of Seville by a pair of youthful institutions (NCPA 2008, Castleton 2009), conducted by a not-so-youthful institution - 81-year-old legend Lorin Maazel - it was a last-minute decision by NCPA's board of directors that stole the show.

"It fell out of the sky. Really!" said designer Zhang Wu of his set design - his first for opera - seemingly glad to have put it all behind him. "I had less than 40 days to start from the ground up - you can't imagine the pressure of 200 people waiting on you so they can start working."

Zhang, 37, known for his work with director Meng Jinghui on such plays as 1999's Rhinoceros in Love (still China's most popular contemporary drama), explains he was called in after the sparser Castleton set was scrapped because management felt it didn't reflect Chinese tastes.

"It was too simple and clean," explained Zhang, "more of an individual style that is hard to pull off for this kind of venue."

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