Classic Opera Revels in “Fluff and Nonsense,” now on the Toronto stage
Much of the music of The Barber of Seville (Gioachino Rossini, 1816) is familiar to me from the iconic Bugs Bunny sketch “Rabbit of Seville” and constitutes one of my earliest exposures to opera. It is clear when watching Canadian Opera Company’s current production that the rascally rabbit took notes on comedic genius from Rossini and librettist Cesare Sterbini. Two hundred years later, this quintessential opera buffa is still effervescent hilarity.
The story is the prequel to The Marriage of Figaro, and like that opera is based on an 18th-century play by famed French playwright Pierre Beaumarchais. Younger, more idealistic versions of Figaro’s cast tell the story of the courtship and marriage of Count Almaviva and the local doctor’s ward, a beautiful young girl named Rosina. Dr. Bartolo is a greedy old man who is trying to force a repulsed Rosina into marriage. Count Almaviva, who has fallen madly in love with Rosina, has assumed the identity of a nondescript peasant to ensure that Rosina’s affection for him is not motivated by his wealth and title. Despite the creepy doctor’s efforts to keep Rosina under lock and key, the count comes up with a ruse to gain access aided by Figaro, a young barber in Seville. Everyone likes to confide in Figaro, who has a real talent for problem-solving.
While it is the current fashion at COC for some sort of action or projection to occur during the overture, director Joan Font elects to let the overture speak for itself. This choice does indeed accomplish what I believe is the desired effect. With no distraction from the music, I was struck by the diversity of moods that are communicated as all the melodic themes of the opera were exposed. The orchestra, conducted by Speranza Scappucci, did a superb job of navigating the dynamic shifts in tempo and mood and the intricacies of Rossini’s highly florid melodies.
The circus-inspired costumes are playful and colourful, setting a fantastical tone for the storytelling. It is clear that everyone involved in this production is having a great time with this energy, and the audience can’t help but be caught up in the fun.
Emily D’Angelo dazzles in the role of clever and sassy Rosina. Rapid coloratura passages of jaw-dropping range sound effortless from her, with high notes that soar and low notes that resonate in the listener’s chest. She is truly one of the most stunning homegrown vocal talents we will see on the COC stage. Her dramatic talents are a good match for her larger-than-life voice, and she is able to fully realize the character in a way that appears completely natural and unaffected.
Baritone Vito Priante made a jocular and engaging Figaro. His low resonant voice is round and juicy with impressive agility. His performance of the operatic hit “Largo al factotum” is a joyful, rollicking ride that cannot help but endear him to the audience.
Tenor Santiago Ballerini was a suitable choice for the romantic hero, but somehow, I did not find this performance quite as compelling. I enjoyed the spun-sugar sweetness of his tone, but the agile passages did not have the same feeling of ease. He is often the straight man, but his punchlines did not land for me as well. That being said, he does a very droll drunken soldier.
Renato Girolami does a great job as the comedic baddie Dr. Bartolo. He plays the role just smarmy enough that we want to see him foiled without creeping us out so much that it stops being funny.
If you are curious about seeing opera but not sure that you will like it, definitely go see Barber of Seville. The music is catchy, fun and familiar. The story is funny and easy to get into, with jokes that wear well two centuries later. This production revels in Barber of Seville’s fluff and nonsense. If you already know you are an opera lover, Barber of Seville will remind you why.
- The Barber of Seville is playing until February 7, 2020 at Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts (145 Queen Street West)
- Showtimes are 7:30 PM on January 22, 25, 30, February 1, 4 & 7, with additional matinees at 2 PM on January 19, and 4:30 PM on January 25.
- Ticket prices range from $45 – $365. Patrons under 30 can purchase tickets for $22 or $35 here.
- Tickets are available online, or through the box office at 416-363-8231 (long distance 1-800-250-4653).
- Tickets can also be purchased on the TodayTix app and website for theatre tickets.
Photo of Emily D’Angelo and Vito Priante by Michael Cooper