The music and voices of COC’s Barber provides for a thoroughly enjoyable night at the opera
I’m tempted to surmise that the music of Rossini’s comic masterpiece The Barber of Seville is unparalleled in successfully penetrating pop-culture. If you are of a certain age, perhaps your first introduction was Bugs Bunny lampooning the famous overture in The Rabbit of Seville; you’ve almost certainly heard someone singing the refrain “Figaro, Figaro, Figaro,” or maybe you’ve heard the Mustard Pimp dubstep remix of Largo al Factotum. Either way, Canadian Opera Company serves up the production at the Four Seasons Centre and it’s a delightfully light and entertaining evening for their patrons.
Barber is part of French playwright Beaumarchais’ Figaro trilogy, and although written many years later, it serves as a prequel to the events in The Marriage of Figaro. We meet the three main characters, Count Almaviva, Rosina and Figaro while they are still young, light and fresh—not yet jaded by life. This allows for an infectious carefree exuberance that they add to the story.
We’ll begin with Figaro, played here brilliantly by Canadian baritone Joshua Hopkins. Not only the town barber, he is the local master of all trades—the factotum. Figaro is skilled at relating to the people he interacts with, knowing who he must be to each in order to secure his payday. He will do whatever needs to be done, and his jobs are unending, so all he hears day in and out is “Figaro, Figaro, Figaro.” He sings as much in his entrance aria Largo al factotum which Hopkins made big, vibrant and colourful. The song is virtuosic, and not particularly easy to sing, but the baritone was perfectly persuasive in his robust delivery.
American tenor Alek Shrader is Count Almaviva, and although the delivery of Ecco ridente in cielo (There, laughing in the sky), his first aria, was underwhelming, he found his voice shortly after. he was however, spot on in his portrayal of the many characters he disguises himself as throughout the production. He is the wealthy Count Almaviva, full of confidence and love for Rosina; Lindoro the poor student—the one Rosina falls in love with; the wild drunken sailor, and later Rosina’s exuberant substitute music teacher. Shrader displayed his wide vocal range in his embodiment of each character.
Rossini created wonderfully strong female characters, and Italian mezzo-soprano Serena Malfi personifies this as Rosina the young, feisty Spanish senorita at the heart of the production. We meet parentless Rosina early in her life, and in the care of her much older scheming guardian, Doctor Bartolo. It’s clear from her first introduction that she doesn’t back down, is fiery and will dictate what happens to her. Written for a contralto, there is colour, a depth and strength of tone in Malfi’s performance that lends itself to the intention of this character. Musically, her range is large and she handled it with aplomb. There is a joie de vivre that she brought to the stage in all her scenes.
Rounding out the beautifully clean voices in Barber are Italian baritone Renato Girolami as Bartolo, here the bassa buffo, comedic lecher—the older man who wants to take advantage of his charge. Canada’s own deep bass-baritone Robert Gleadow entertains in all his scenes as Don Basilio, Bartolo’s scheming, slanderous companion. Soprano Aviva Fortunata played Rosina’s servant Berta and was a joy to watch and hear on stage. The act I finale, in typical Rossini fashion is large, with everyone on stage. It’s beautifully virtuosic and was one of the finer instances of this style that I’ve witnessed on stage for some time.
Kudos must also be given to Scottish conductor Rory Macdonald who lovingly brings out the colour and character of each member of his orchestral flock. Every musical note worked to enhance the beauty and clarity of the singer’s voices.
The ornamentation of this production of The Barber of Seville makes sense—it’s meant to be comedic and over the top. It appears that everyone on stage is having fun, comfortable in their space and in their characters. There is an energy and excitement that infects the audience from beginning to end. Musically it’s vintage, memorable, tuneful and full of character.
The Barber of Seville continues through May 22. For more information and tickets visit: coc.ca