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It's the elephant in the room – or in this case, one enormously famous rabbit.

When people hear the overture to Rossini's comic opera The Barber of Seville, they can't help but think of the legendary Bugs Bunny episode, Rabbit of Seville; but rather than shuffle that pop culture nugget out the stage door, Calgary director Dennis Garnhum decided to meet it head on.

"As a director you're given this gift, which is there is a funny moment in the music right off the top that everybody in the world knows," says Garnhum, who gives a subtle nod to the rascally rabbit with a well-placed carrot in the new Vancouver Opera production. "And why not say, 'Let's have fun?' "

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And they do. Set on a 1940s movie back lot, the action happens behind the scenes at a frenzied film shoot, with actors running on and off the stage, changing clothes, and singing on command, as the multi-costumed Count Almaviva tries to win the hand of Rosina with the help of hair stylist Figaro.

While the production stays true to the essence of the Rossini work, Garnhum says that setting it in the modern era allowed them to update the characters and play with contemporary references – even if it did take the singers, several of whom have performed in traditional stagings of the work, a little time to adjust to the new vision. Soon, however, they were fully on board.

"I have directed many things in my life, but this one really feels magical, and everyone is going for it," says Garnhum. "You know, to ask a whole company to be in their underwear and sing with zero resistance is kind of a miracle."

The Barber of Seville runs through March 25. For info and tickets, visit

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