Oscar Castellino: The Barber of Seville is a must-watch

The Indian opera star speaks about the fabulous new show and his fascinating opera journey

Oscar Castellino in
The Barber of Seville

Asjad Nazir

BRILLIANTLY talented baritone Oscar Castellino has had a beautiful journey that has taken him from working as a software engineer in Mumbai to becoming an acclaimed opera singer.

He will add to his impressive stage achievements with a lead role in a new The Barber of Seville adaptation, which will be performed for the first time in a Yorkshire dialect and premiere at the new Bradford Opera Festival on November 23, at St George’s Hall. The Indian talent discovered by internationally renowned British opera singer Patricia Rozario OBE takes on the iconic Figaro role. The opening event is one of many musical highlights at the new festival, aiming to take opera to a wider audience.

Eastern Eye caught up with him to find out more about the fabulous new show and his fascinating opera journey.

What first connected you to opera?

While still working as a software engineer in Mumbai in 2009, I happened to be invited by a friend to watch a concert by a visiting opera singer. I was amazed that the human body could produce a sound that without amplification could reach more than 1,000 people in the auditorium. I knew that I could sing but it was this experience that made me want to train in opera. The singer was Patricia Rozario OBE. I went to a workshop with her soon after the concert and she encouraged me to take up opera and was my teacher at the Royal College of Music.

What has been your most memorable performance so far?

My most memorable performance was at a concert in California at the Mars Convention in 2017. I composed an anthem for Mars that was accepted by the International Mars Society as their ‘Mars anthem’ and I got to perform it in front of scientists and astronauts. The song was shared with them beforehand and many of them sang along with me with gusto – this was a very powerful moment.

How do you feel performing on stage?

I joke that as a performer you have many birthdays in a year because when I am on stage, I feel the same as if it is my birthday. The audiences you get are mostly supportive – it is always a joy to entertain and communicate with receptive audiences.

Tell us about this new The Barber of Seville production?

The Barber of Seville is originally an opera in the Italian language that is set in Spain. I have often thought that a lot of the best operas could be adapted to a local audience for them to better enjoy the music. I have also curated and performed the Largo Al Factotum, that is Figaro’s entrance aria in this opera, in a version that uses Indian classical spoken rhythms. In the same vein, I think Bradford Opera Festival is further realising the power of this opera by adapting it to a Yorkshire setting, thus widening the reach of Rossini’s music.

That makes it more universal…

Yes, the comedy that could sometimes be lost if one doesn’t understand Italian, will now be truly appreciated by the Yorkshire audiences.

How does Figaro compare to other characters you have portrayed?

Figaro is an iconic character. He is known to opera lovers and non-opera lovers alike. Being the handyman of the town, Figaro is an all-aware, all-knowing character. He is probably solving many problems at the same time, executing one solution while thinking about the next and getting a request for a third. I have seen this happening at any repair shop in India, where a single technician attends to many people and conversations at the same time. This is quite different to most characters I have played.

What is the biggest challenge of portraying an iconic character like Figaro?

Figaro is a challenging role. The challenge first starts with the music. The baritone has to be able to support a wide vocal range with power and agility. The character being a factotum, must maintain relations with many other characters at once, which requires a peculiar calmness and control of situations.

Tell us more…

So, although the music may be challenging with high notes and runs, the portrayal of the character and the sound produced need to exude calmness, control, and wit, so as to be able to tackle any new hurdles that may come along in the character’s journey. Above all, this is a comic opera and good comic timing is paramount.

How much are you looking forward to premiering the piece at the new Bradford Opera Festival?

I am very excited to explore the Yorkshire dialect and am thoroughly enjoying learning Ian McMillan’s new version. My earliest encounter with the Yorkshire accent was through hearing cricket commentary when I was growing up in India. The accent seemed friendly, warm and entertaining. I am looking forward to bringing McMillan’s text to life with the music of Rossini.

What inspires you as a singer?

Singing combines two powerful media of communication – words and music and can inspire people as well as the performers themselves. Opera adds theatre to singing, which makes it an all-encompassing art form.

What are some of the projects that you have planned?

A week after The Barber of Seville, I will be singing Handel’s Messiah at St John’s Waterloo. I am also looking to curate an opera on a story that is based in India, inspired by Figaro’s main aria Largo Al Factotum. I visit India twice a year to do concerts with orchestras in Mumbai and Goa.

 What is your own favourite opera as an audience member?

La Boheme by Puccini can never fail to captivate me no matter how many times I see it.

Why should we watch this new The Barber of Seville show?

A classical masterpiece by Rossini made specially for Bradford. Which city has such a luxury? It is a must-watch if you love opera and even if you are new to it.

The Barber of Seville takes place on Thursday, November 23, at St George’s Hall in Bradford