The Barber of Seville: Fun at the Opera

Canadian Opera Company's revival delights in musical games
By Madalina Hubert, Epoch Times
April 22, 2015 Last Updated: April 23, 2015

By Madalina Hubert
Epoch Times Staff

TORONTO—It’s hard to say opera isn’t fun after seeing Rossini’s “The Barber of Seville.” Drawing on the satirical 18th century play by French playwright Pierre de Beaumarchais, Rossini’s operatic masterpiece delights in farce, fast-paced action, and playful melodies.

You will probably recognize some of the tunes, having heard them in films, cartoons, advertisements, and classical radio.

It is no wonder “The Barber of Seville” is one of the most popular operas performed today, beloved not only by critics and audiences since its 1816 debut in Rome, but also garnering praise from Rossini’s own great musical contemporaries, such as Beethoven and Verdi.

This year, the Canadian Opera Company has brought back Spanish director Joan Font’s flamboyant adaptation to the stage of the Four Seasons Centre in Toronto.

Font’s minimal stage design is colourful, vibrant, and unconventional. It is also musically themed with a giant Picasso-inspired guitar as the platform for romantic serenades, and a huge pink multifunctional prop piano which serves as a writing desk, a banquet table, and a boudoir. The set’s fabric walls also come to life with shadow plays and cinematic montages.

The opera’s plot starts relatively simply, becoming more and more convoluted. The young Count Almaviva—pretending he is a poor man named Lindoro—falls in love with the maiden Rosina whose jealous guardian, the old doctor Bartolo, wants to marry her in order to inherit the family fortune.

But how do the young lovers thwart the guardian? It is here that the resourceful Figaro, a jack of all trades, comes in, sparking a series of intrigues, disguises, and mistaken identities.

“When you start the staging of a new opera you instantly and simultaneously open two paths: the path of music and that of literature. You should let yourself be seduced by both,” states Font in the director’s notes.

Rossini’s music is rich and playful, heightening the comedy and inspiring a joyous celebration. The COC’s cast of international performers (with Canadian baritone Joshua Hopkins in the title role of Figaro) brings that out with flair and enthusiasm.

American tenor Alex Shrader sings the role of Almaviva, with Romanian Bogdan Mihai stepping in at select performances in May. Italian mezzo-soprano Serena Malfi delights as the feisty Rosina, with American Cecelia Hall also performing select performances in May.

“The Barber of Seville” uses slapstick comedy and light-hearted melodies characteristic of the opera buffa (comic opera) genre, with the aim to delight but also to raise deeper questions, inviting the audience to reflect on what drives people in their actions, what pulls and pushes them to make decisions, to speak and act.

Font brings this question to life through his staging, with the characters becoming puppets being pulled in different directions by strings at one point in the opera.

Is there a way to break the charade? The answer may just lie the finale sequence with the refrain, “May love and faith reign eternally in your hearts.”

In the mean time, pay a visit to COC’s Look & Listen Guide (www.coc.ca/Look-and-Listen.aspx) and you’ll be sure to recognize some of the songs, particularly the Overture and Figaro’s “Cavatina.” And if you find yourself humming along with Figaro, all the better.

“The Barber of Seville” runs at Toronto’s Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts until May 22. For more information, visit: www.coc.ca