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Tuesday, September 8, 2015

The Demon Barber of Fleet Street Comes to SF Opera

Posted By on Tue, Sep 8, 2015 at 11:00 AM

click to enlarge Brian Mulligan as Sweeney Todd - COURTESY OF  CORY WEAVER/SAN FRANCISCO OPERA
  • Courtesy of Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera
  • Brian Mulligan as Sweeney Todd

Brian Mulligan has an answer you don’t hear every day about what’s the most fun for him about playing Sweeney Todd, the demon barber of Fleet Street in Stephen Sondheim’s musical, coming to the San Francisco Opera this fall.

“All the blood,” he says. “I kill six people onstage and there’s blood everywhere- on me and on them. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever done before.”

But there’s more to the role than blood. Mulligan, a baritone who studied at the Yale School of Music and at Julliard, says he dreamed of playing Sweeney Todd. For one thing, he feels he communicates best singing in his native English. But it’s mostly the range of emotions the character goes through.

click to enlarge The San Francisco Opera Chorus with Stephanie Blythe as Mrs. Lovett and Brian Mulligan as Sweeney Todd - COURTESY OF  CORY WEAVER/SAN FRANCISCO OPERA
  • Courtesy of Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera
  • The San Francisco Opera Chorus with Stephanie Blythe as Mrs. Lovett and Brian Mulligan as Sweeney Todd

click to enlarge Brian Mulligan as Sweeney Todd with, Wayne Tigges as Judge Turpin - COURTESY OF CORY WEAVER/SAN FRANCISCO OPERA
  • Courtesy of Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera
  • Brian Mulligan as Sweeney Todd with, Wayne Tigges as Judge Turpin

“He goes from a heartbroken man to this murderous rage and then back to sort of a naïve innocent man,” Mulligan says.

Going through all that takes a toll, and Mulligan says he comes home exhausted, but he’s enjoying the work.

“I just love how Sondheim has written this piece,” he said. “It’s a perfect composition — the words just sound so perfect with the music he composed.”

The musical makes a great opera, Mulligan thinks.

“There’s this thick, lush orchestration in the piece,” he said. “It’s worthwhile hearing operatic voices sing it.”

In this season at SF Opera, Mulligan will also be playing Roderick Usher in The Fall of the House of Usher and Enrico in Lucia di Lammermoor. Other appearances at the SF Opera include the title role in Nixon in China, Sharpless in Madama Butterfly, and Marcello in La Bohème, along with both modern and classical operas around the world. Mulligan does an incredible amount of preparation for his roles (for example, to play Nixon, he read books the president had written, watched David Frost’s Nixon tapes multiple times, went to the Nixon Library, and even visited China), and he says although the pace can be grueling, it’s what he likes.

“I like to be challenged by a wide variety of roles and to go back and forth between genres of singing,” Mulligan said. “I’m happy when I’m working.” 

Sweeney Todd, Sept. 12–29, at the San Francisco Opera House, 301 Van Ness. $26-$381, 415-864-3330.
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Emily Wilson

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