Riley Arts Editor, Andrew Wager-Chazalon, says the Canadian Opera Company’s The Barber of Seville is a “comic delight for opera-lovers and newbies alike”
If “Go to an opera for the first time” is on your 2020 Things To Do list, now’s the time to act. The Barber of Seville is a comic gem and truly a must-see show. Running at the Four Seasons Centre in Toronto, this is opera at its most accessible, a comic three-ring circus with sublime musical performances that will delight opera fans and neophytes alike.
Presented as part of the Canadian Opera Company 2020 program, this production is driven by the work of Els Comediants, a Spanish theatre collective that has been in existence for more than 40 years. Their work draws heavily on traditional arts more often seen in the circus or in street theatre: clowning, acrobatics, improv, and the traditions of commedia dell’arte. It’s the perfect style to bring to the frothy delight of Gioachino Rossini’s score.
The Barber of Seville is Classic Comic Opera
The Barber of Seville debuted in 1816, and quickly became one of the most beloved works in the comic opera world. Count Almaviva has fallen hopelessly in love with the beautiful Rosina and has followed her from Madrid to Seville. Her guardian, Doctor Bartolo, keeps her locked away from suitors so he can marry her himself and secure her fortune.
To outwit Bartolo, the count recruits Figaro, a local barber who knows everyone and – for a price – will get involved in any scheme. Figaro comes up with a plan to allow Count Almaviva to meet Rosina (they’ve never actually spoken, so the count needs to know if she loves him too) and then escape with her so they can marry.
The story is silly and the libretto is fun, and none of it takes itself too seriously. When Almaviva and Rosina finally realize they can escape together, they sing a love duet while Figaro tells them to stop singing and hurry up already; the three of them then sing for several minutes about the need to go to the window and climb down the ladder quickly and quietly. By the time they finish all this singing, of course, the ladder has long since been discovered and taken away by Bartolo.
Recognizable Tunes and Gorgeous Music
And yet all this gauzy nonsense is told through some truly gorgeous music. Even if you don’t know opera, you will recognize some of the tunes, including the overture and Figaro’s opening aria Largo al factotum (the one where he sings his own name repeatedly). The music shows up in movies and commercials as well as in the now 70-year-old Bugs Bunny cartoon.
The musical highlights begin right off the top with the beautiful overture. The orchestra is directed by Speranza Scappucci, who is making her COC mainstage debut. She has been called one of classical music’s ‘brightest stars’ and her work here shows why. Under her baton, the orchestra truly does become a single instrument, an emotive, expressive 60-person body that turns mere notes into magical spells. It’s not very common to hear cries of “Bravo” after the overture, but in this case, it was well deserved.
Toronto audiences last saw this production of Barber in 2015. Renato Girolami is the only principal member of that cast to appear in this production, singing the role of Doctor Bartolo. He brings a gorgeous baritone voice to the stage, and an incredible comic physicality, and is a delight to watch.
As Figaro, Vito Priante is a master of style and poise, a bundle of arrogance and acquisitiveness: he happily sings about how he will help the lovers if he’s paid, and we love him for it anyway.
Comic Turns and a Bell-like Tenor
Santiago Ballerini is wonderful in the role of Count Almaviva. His clear bell-like tenor rings out beautifully. His comic turns are marvelous, particularly when he appears in disguise, first as a drunken soldier who claims to have been billeted with Doctor Bartolo, then as a music teacher who gives a lesson to Rosina while also revealing his love for her under Bartolo’s watchful eye.
Rosina is played by Emily D’Angelo, a graduate of the COC Ensemble Studio. In her hands, Rosina is no mere prize for the men to squabble over: there is steel in her bearing and her voice, and when she sings that Bartolo doesn’t know who he is dealing with, we believe her.
Brandon Cedel in the role of Basilio brings a powerful, oak-and-timbers bass-baritone voice which is a thrill to hear.
And full credit goes to the many non-singing performers on stage, clowning and sometimes even telling another story entirely as the main action takes place. This is a production you could see several times, spotting new comic bits at every performance.
If you have a friend who says they don’t care for opera, take them to see this production: you may just make a fan of them.
The Barber of Seville runs until February 7. Also watch for the upcoming production of Hansel & Gretel, which runs from February 6 to 21.
For tickets and other details regarding this brilliant production of The Barber of Seville, as well as other fun things to do and shows to see at the Four Seasons Centre, visit the Canadian Opera Company’s website at www.coc.ca.
Andrew Wagner-Chazalon is Editor and CEO at Dockside Publishing. For more great happenings in Muskoka, Georgian Bay, Kawartha, and the Lake Simcoe area, be sure to pick up the 2019 edition of Lakeside magazine. Visit their website at www.docksidepublishing.com.