Stage Door Review 2020

The Barber of Seville

Jan 22, 2020

✭✭

by Gioacchino Rossini, directed by Joan Font

Canadian Opera Company, Four Seasons Centre, Toronto

January 19, 22, 25, 30, February , 2, 4, & 7, 2020

Rosina: "Si muor di noia”

For its 2020 winter season the Canadian Opera Company has revived its 2015 production of The Barber of Seville conceived by Spanish director Joan Font and his production team. The gimmicky production does not improve on second viewing, but having seen the same feeble visual gags before did make them easier to ignore.

The principal improvement in this revival is the fiery conducting of Italian maestra Speranza Scappucci. Scappucci’s account of the overture is one of the fastest this reviewer has ever heard. Indeed, it could rightly be called too fast except that the COC Orchestra plays with verve and amazing precision as if it enjoys the challenge. The effect was undeniably exciting and the result was greeted with an enormous roar of approval which Scappucci had the entire orchestra stand to acknowledge. Scappucci’s effervescent tempi remain faster than normal throughout which means that Figaro (Vito Priante) and Bartolo (Renato Girolami) have to sing the patter portions of their arias at the utmost limit of intelligibility, with Priante far more successful at it than Girolami.

Otherwise, Font’s insistence that every aria must be accompanied by some visual tomfoolery by his cadre of eleven non-singing actors remains annoying. Why during Figaro’s “Largo al factotum” should Font show us five extras dressed like Figaro all engaged in various dramas simultaneously on stage? Why during Don Basilio’s “La calunnia” should Font have his extras dress up an actor standing on a gigantic piano only to pull off his clothing with strings at the end, thus keeping the focus completely off the singer? Why during the conclusion of “Contro un cor che accende amore” should Font have Almaviva and Rosina open the sail-like lid of the piano and have Almaviva produce and oar to start rowing? (Are they sailing or rowing?) If you though hanging a chandelier with a servant on it was funny last year, you get to see the same laboriously set up joke again this year. Clearly, Font and designer Joan Guillén think their petty visual dumbshows enhance the comedy of the arias when, in fact, they detract from them.

Even between arias Font employ his extras to pointless activities. An old woman rifles through her purse during all of Act 1, an action unrelated to the opera’s plot or theme. A silent duenna steals drinks from the bar in Acts 2 and 3. In Act 2 workmen paint the tree outside Bartolo’s window with white paint. Why? All these incidents and more suggest Font has more interest in his own jokes than in Rossini’s. Even when Rossini does suggest a joke, Font doesn’t quite get it. In the chorus “Fredda ed immobile come una statua”, he has the cast move about in stiff, jerky motions as if they were old-fashioned robots, not the immobile statues they say they are.

Nevertheless, while the cast dutifully performs its assigned actions, nearly all them give superior performances. Among the singers the revelation of the evening is was baritone Vito Priante as Figaro in his COC debut. His voice is agile yet possessed a lush, full tone and he commands the pinpoint precision of diction to negotiate Rossini’s runs and Scappucci’s rapid tempi. Besides this he seems completely at home on stage and is a master of comic timing.

Audiences well know the talented Canadian mezzo-soprano Emily D’Angelo, who sang Dorabella here just last year. What is most noticeable is how her voice has grown in depth and expressivity. The dignity of D’Angelo’s performance and the power of her voice leads one to think that she will soon be ready to take on the great serious mezzo roles.

As Dr. Bartolo, Italian baritone Renato Girolami is familiar to COC audiences since he sang the same role here in this production in 2015. In spite of this, he still manages to keep his characterization fresh and devoid of shtick. As Don Basilo, American bass-baritone Brandon Cedel is forced to wear a clumpy prosthetic nose. Nevertheless, the nose does not hamper his impressively rich tone in “La calunnia” which made one wish Rossini had given the character more to sing. As Berta, Canadian Simona Genga displays a full yet nimble mezzo-soprano in her account of “Il vecchiotto cerca moglie.” All that is wanting is greater variety of expression to put the aria fully across.

The one vocal disappointment is Argentinian tenor Santiago Ballerini as Almaviva. In his first two arias he briefly touches on rather than revels in his high notes and he tends to slide along his passagework rather than deliver it with the precision of Priante. Yet, he shows himself quite amusing as the drunken solder and then as the spurious Don Alfonso in Acts 2 and 3. By Act 4, his pinched tone opened up and his runs had gained greater clarity.

The judgement of the opening matinee audience proved to be quite accurate. Scappucci received the loudest and longest applause followed by slightly less but equal and ardent acclaim for both Priante and D’Angelo. Director Joan Font and designer Joan Guillén decided to appear wearing bits of clown paraphernalia – huge goggles, a red nose – likely to demonstrate yet again what funny guys they are. Nevertheless, the applause diminished significantly.

Christopher Hoile

Note: This a version of a review that will appear later in Opera News.

Photos: (from top) Santiago Ballerini as Almaviva on guitar and ensemble; Vito Priante as Figaro, Santiago Ballerini as Almaviva, Brandon Cedel as Don Basilio, Emily D’Angelo as Rosina, Simona Genga as Berta and Renato Girolami as Bartolo; Emily D’Angelo as Rosina and Vito Priante as Figaro. © 2019 Michael Cooper.

For tickets, visit www.coc.ca.