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Figaro’s back!

The Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts
04/17/2015 -  & April 19, 21, 26, 29, May 2, 7, 9, 13, 15, 19, 21, 22, 2015
Gioacchino Rossini: Il barbiere di Siviglia
Joshua Hopkins (Figaro), Serena Malfi*/Cecelia Hall (Rosina), Alek Shrader*/Francisco Brito (Count Almaviva), Renato Girolami*/Nikolay Didenko (Dr. Bartolo), Robert Gleadow*/Burak Bilgili (Don Basilio), Aviva Fortunata (Berta), Iain MacNeil (Fiorello), Clarence Frazer (Officer)
The Canadian Opera Company Chorus, Sandra Horst (chorus master), The Canadian Opera Company Orchestra and Chorus, Rory Macdonald (conductor)
Joan Font (director), Joan Guillén (set and costume designer), Albert Faura (lighting designer), Xevi Dorca (choreographer)

J. Hopkins & S. Malfi (© Michael Cooper)

While this production sparkles musically, the staging is “excessivament ocupat”. That is the Catalan phrase meaning “too busy”. The Barcelona-based artists’ collective Els Comediants (director Joan Font, set and costume designer Joan Guillén, lighting designer Albert Faura, and choreographer Xevi Dorca) employ 11 actors in this production; not only do they outnumber the solo singers, their antics tend to provide a serious distraction from the main action.

It was rather amusing when Figaro sings his famous entrance aria and we see five other Figaros acting out the various roles he plays as Seville’s factotum. But the activity going on while Rosina sings “Una voce poco fa” and Don Basilio sings “La calunnia” does a disservice to the singers. And, by the way, Serena Malfi and Robert Gleadow both sing extremely well. Joshua Hopkins is a youthful, animated Figaro.

The truly funny part of the production occurs thanks to Alek Shrader’s flouncy way as Don Alonso, the annoying fake music master. Perhaps because of all the business with the 11 actors there is less exaggerated mugging from the main characters, notably Dr. Bartolo, deftly played by Renato Girolami as someone genuinely and justifiably confused.

This is a three-continent co-production, shared with the companies in Bordeaux, Houston and Australia. I am sure the plain, simple set tucks away neatly in just one container, which is really all this opera needs. It turns out the serviceable set has transparent screens so activity both inside and outside Dr. Bartolo’s house can be seen.

The costume designs hearken to what is traditional for the work, but have somehow gone askew - for example, Rosina is missing the bottom half of her skirt.

The audience (at least those in the orchestra seats) are showered with currency at the end - a reference no doubt to the Count's wealth which he is seen to make use of.

Rory Macdonald has a nifty way of teasing and tickling the music, giving the familiar score a welcome degree of freshness. Ms Malfi and Mr Shrader achieve a marvelous unison when the two lovebirds celebrate their nuptials.

Toward the end of the 13-performance run there are some cast changes, with Francisco Brito assuming the role of the Count; Cecelia Hall as Rosina; Nikolay Didenko as Doctor Bartolo; and Burak Bilgili as Don Basilio. The May 15 performance is the annual Ensemble Studio performance, an event that has become a season highlight.

Michael Johnson



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