The Barber of Seville, on stage at the Four Seasons Centre in Toronto, is a charming blend of merriment and song
There’s a Christine Lavin song that begins with: “I am at the opera, I don’t like the opera / But he loves the opera, and I love him.”
It’s clear to me that the man Christine Lavin sang about did not take her to The Barber of Seville at the Canadian Opera Company. The Barber of Seville is a great starter opera – it’s funny, it celebrates love, there’s lots of physical comedy and it is entirely without tragedy. The opening night audience included more children than I’ve ever seen at a COC production, and with good reason. The Barber of Seville is an opera buffa: it was written to be accessible, funny and easily enjoyed by people without training and literacy in opera. This is a perfect opera (and a marvellous production) to use as a gateway drug, so people who have never been to (or have never enjoyed) opera can begin to fall in love.
Anyone who grew up with Saturday morning cartoons will probably have some familiarity with at least Figaro (the actual Barber of Seville)’s aria, Largo al Factotum, which was featured in nine Warner Bros. cartoons, including Tom and Jerry and Bugs Bunny. (That said, singing along is discouraged.)
Musically, it was a great night. I’m a particular fan of Joshua Hopkins, singing the entire run as Figaro. There is something deeply satisfying in his baritone – I always feel like I could just drink it down, and strongly suspect I would feel quite nourished (and perhaps a little drunk) after I did.
Another favourite of mine, bass-baritone Robert Gleadow, is playing most of the performances as Basilio. I could have hailed his return to the COC stage with confetti. Mezzo-soprano Serena Malfi as Rosina is also delightful to listen to: her voice is crisp and bright as a green apple, perfect for a hopeful maiden. Everyone was very, very good, really – lively and vigorous and full of voice, while doing a lot of acting besides.
On the subject of acting, I’m not sure that the COC chorus and supernumeraries have ever had such fun as they were allowed on this stage. Crafted by the Spanish theatre troupe Els Comediants, this production of The Barber of Seville has quite a lot of stage business – hijinks, shenanigans, antics, capers and similarly vintage words all apply here. I wouldn’t say there were people dangling from the chandeliers, but… wait, actually, yes I would. Director Joan Font melds the merriment with song very nicely, letting them make a satisfying point and counterpoint to each other.
While all the costumes are a little absurdist, it’s those of the company of police that pass into plain absurd. They wear brilliant blue wide pants and have giant pink plumes atop their hats. I can’t help but think that all policing would be better in such costumes. Perhaps it would put the police in as fine a mood as my date and I were in when we left, humming happily.
- The Barber of Seville plays at the Four Seasons Centre, 145 Queen W. April 17 – May 22, with two casts.
- Tickets range in price from $37.00 to $339, with discounted tickets, $22-$35 available for those under 30 through the COC Opera Under 30 program.
- Tickets can be purchased online or by calling 416.363.8361
Photo of the cast by Michael Cooper.