Review by David Richards
Toronto ON January 23rd 2019
The Barber of Seville: entertainment that has it all!
A scene from the Canadian Opera Company’s production of The Barber of
Seville, 2020,; Photo credit: Michael Cooper
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Performances of The Barber of Seville continue January 25, 28, February 1, 2, 4 and 7. Don’t miss it!
Emily D’Angelo as Rosina and Vito Priante as Figaro in the Canadian Opera Company’s production of The Barber of Seville, 2020
Photo credit: Michael Cooper
Santiago Ballerini as Count Almaviva (right) in the Canadian Opera Company’s production of The Barber of Seville, 2020; Photo credit: Michael Cooper
D’Angelo was flanked by a stellar cast of international stars. The Argentinian tenor Santiago Ballerini was stunning in his lyrical arias but was also a comic hit when disguised as a poor student, a soldier and especially as a music teacher. His aria ‘Ecco, ridente in cielo’ displayed both his marvelous penetrating tone, but also his nimble technique in the ornate passages. His high C was sung with clarity and ease. The French baritone Vito Priante, in his COC debut as Figaro impressed from his first entrance with the famous ‘Largo al factotem’ aria. From there, he was the centre of much of the comedy. The Italian baritone Renato Girolami is reprising his role of Bartolo from the COC 2015 production. His patter-song ‘da un dottore della mia sorte' (a doctor of my standing) introduced him in the commedia d’ell arte character of the bumbling old man hopelessly chasing after a young woman. American bass, Brandon Cedel was steller in the role of Basilio, the music teacher ready to serve whoever pays him the most. Canadians in the cast included bass-baritone Joel Allison as Fiorello, Almaviva’s servant, bass-baritone Vartan Babrielian, an officer, and mezzo-soprano Simona Genga as Berta.
Renato Girolami as Bartolo and Vito Priante as Figaro in the Canadian Opera Company’s production of The Barber of Seville, 2020
Photo credit: Michael Cooper
The story of the opera buffa is a simple one taken from the Beaumarchais play in which Count Almaviva, with the aid of the barber Figaro, uses disguises, his wealth and his rank to outwit the Doctor Bartolo in order to marry Bartolo’s ward Rosina. As the ‘Rossini money’ floated down on the audience at the end of the opera, it was as if to say, “Yes, you too are included in this satire of greed for wealth and power!”
For me the singing was the highlight. And there was none better than mezzo-soprano Emily D’Angelo in the role of Rosina.I have been following D’Angelo’s career for several years and she has indeed blossomed into a superstar. She traverses through the registers of her voice seamlessly. Her aria ‘Una voce poco fa” was a showstopper. She commanded the stage like few can with her comic sense. She sings Handel, Mozart and Rossini equally convincingly. I first heard the multiple award winner soon after her 2016 graduation from UofT in a Generation Next Concert where she highlighted a concert of fresh talent singing Rossini’s Giovanna D’Arco. The first impression left me wanting not to miss an opportunity to hear her, so we made sure we attended her performances in COC’s Magic Flute and Ariodante and in the Met’s Magic Flute where she was 2nd Lady. It’s no wonder that she will be performing this spring at the Vienna Staatsoper as Cherubini in Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro. She has become the next great Canadian mezzo.
What a performance of The Barber of Seville: great singing, a tight orchestra, imaginative, funny, colourful and even a little thought-provoking in its satire! The Canadian Opera Company production currently on a run of eight performances through February 7th has it all. It’s no wonder that it remains one of the world’s most popular operas over two hundred years after its first performance.
The Barber of Seville was the first opera that I ever saw live. I know I am supposed to say that I was overcome by the beautiful music and drama, but in fact, I was not. I was in high school. It was a performance for a student audience, so there were plenty of off-stage distractions. It was long before the days of surtitles and so the fast-paced dialogue in Italian left me more confused than amused. Naturally I had heard many of the melodies. (My parents subscribed to the Record of the month that Life Magazine sponsored, and I was a fan of cartoons growing up.) However, even the familiar tunes were not enough to turn the experience in a positive direction. Thankfully, the world of opera opened up to me in subsequent years.
The current production bears no relationship to what I witnessed in high school. This is a hilarious romp full of slapstick, disguises, an easy-to-follow (if improbable) story line, and incomparable music, with the principal singers all in fine voice displaying beautiful tone, power and agility. The graceful melodic lines and the florid ornamentation were delightful to the ears. This was bel canto singing at its best. The orchestra with Italian conductor Speranza Scappucci leading the charge was crisp and dynamic with outstanding oboe and horn solos that stood out for me. Her tempos were brisk; the enthusiastic ovation she received was well-deserved.
The production is a remake of COC’s 2015 production with Director Joan Font, Set and Costume Designer, Joan Guillén and Lighting Designer Albert Faura re-creating the Picasso-influenced set and with costumes and characters influenced by commedia d’ell arte.