Dates and Venue 17 – 25 March 2012, 7:30pm (matinee at 1:30 on 25) | Queen Elizabeth Theatre
Figaro Joshua Hopkins Rosina Sandra Piques Eddy Almaviva René Barbera Bartolo Thomas Hammons Basilio Thomas Goerz Berta Barbara Towell
Conductor Robert Tweten Director Dennis Garnhum Chorus Director & Associate Conductor Leslie Dala Set Designer Allan Stichbury Lighting Designer Kevin Lamotte Costume Designer Parvin Mirhady Stage manager Sheila Munn
Sung in Italian with English SURTITLES™
Reviewer John Jane
Gioachino Rossini's Italian opera buffa Il Barbiere di Siviglia is one of the most familiar and best-loved operas and is probably the prodromus to the modern musical comedy. Director Dennis Garnhum moves the setting forward roughly a hundred and fifty years to 1940 and abandons the well-trodden piazza staging for a Seville movie studio. The deracination of time and space does not take away any of The Barber’s charm or ready appeal and both opera aficionado and neophytes should delight in this superior production.
Though the setting is updated and the character’s scope may be enlarged or condensed, the basic story remains mainly faithful to its original form. Count Almaviva (in this mounting, a sweet-natured stage-door Johnny) is utterly smitten by the captivating Rosina. The problem is that he must get past her overbearing and lecherous employer, Dr. Bartolo, who also harbours matrimonial designs on his star. Almaviva enlists the help of the mercenary studio hairstylist (read barber), Figaro, who concocts a devious scheme to allow the Count an opportunity to gain Rosina’s confidence and ultimately reciprocate his fervour. But alas, there is treachery afoot. When Bartolo becomes suspicious that Rosina is returning Almaviva’s attentions, he and Rosina’s vocal coach, Don Basilio (also the studio photographer) hatch a plot to discredit him and thus illuminate him from Rosina’s affections. However, Figaro, Almaviva and Rosina eventually outsmart the scheming movie mogul, who is then forced to come to terms with the couple’s union.
The title role is essayed with audacity and panache by Ontario baritone Joshua Hopkins, who looks and sounds perfect as the cocky Figaro with a genius for fixing things. He is larger than life in his virtuosic first act aria Largo al factotum and hams it up quite a bit, but that's who Figaro is in this opera. American mezzo-soprano Sandra Piques Eddy is divine as the vivacious and feisty Rosina. Ms Piques Eddy demonstrates her own timbre and her character’s moral fibre with her showpiece aria Un voce poco fa. Rosina sings, “I am gentle and respectful, sweet and loving” – but she is certainly no pushover.
Thomas Hammons almost steals the show as the buffoonish studio head Bartolo who bears an uncanny (stage) resemblance to (former Italian prime minister) Silvio Berlusconi. Hammons allows Bartolo to take himself seriously, without crossing that line that would transform his character into caricature.
Texas tenor René Barbera, who sings the role of Count Almaviva, has as much fun as the audience appearing as Rosina’s star-struck admirer, drunken soldier and spurious voice coach and finally successful suitor. He doesn’t exactly fit the part of the handsome inamorato, but his first act rendition of Ecco ridente in cielo won me over.
Thunder Bay mezzo-soprano Barbara Towell is almost transparent in the role of production assistant Berta until her second act aria, Il vecchiotto cerca moglie. Ms Towell, who might have been considered too youthful in a traditional version of The Barber, gives one of the opera’s few poignant moments as she sings of the way love has such a moonstruck effect on people, yet yearns for the same thing herself.
Maestro Robert Tweten conducts a responsive Vancouver Opera Orchestra with a light touch and perfect sense of phrase. The Vancouver Opera Chorus in the roles of film extras and studio staff give the audience plenty to look at on stage during Rossini's renowned Overture.
Parvin Mirhady’s exquisite clothing, particularly Rosina’s wardrobe and film extras’ extravagant costumes provide a dimension of quality to an already high level production and Dennis Garnhum may have reached a new plateau in comic inventiveness.
© 2012 John Jane