Opera York’s Cosi fan tutte in Richmond Hill

I just saw Opera York‘s Cosi fan tutte in their wonderful new home the Richmond Hill Centre for the Performing Arts, a wonderful home for opera.

a beautiful new theatre

The theatre has been open for over a year, but this was my first visit.  I had heard good things, for instance, that its design was a charming echo of the Four Seasons Centre in downtown Toronto; but that’s hardly surprising considering that it’s once again Jack Diamond who is responsible for the design.  The Richmond Hill space is like mini-me to the space in Toronto, but don’t let anyone tell you that there’s anything wrong with a small theatre.  If i could be assured of getting a seat, i’d happily trade theatres (if we could figure out a way to get it downtown!), because of course it’s already very hard getting a seat; how much harder would it be when instead of roughly 2000 seats, you only have 600?

There are so many good reasons why one should see opera in a theatre this size, it’s hard to focus on one as the key.

  • There’s no bad seat in such a theatre. While i’ve heard the same thing said about the Four Seasons Centre, it’s only true when your’e making a comparison to a really bad space.   In fact with the Richmond Hill space it’s literally true that every seat is good.
  • The acoustics aren’t just good.  If you think about the problem of acoustics–without amplification of course– there’s a limited amount of energy generated by voices and orchestra.  When over 3000 have to share the energy of those sounds, even if those vibrations were perfectly shared (that is, if you have perfect acoustics) there’s less sound available than when 2000 people share the same sound.  Now imagine instead that the sound is poured over a mere 600 people.  Even singing quietly, one can hear every distinct voice.  The soft notes have additional richness.
  • The seats are bigger, the aisles are huge.
  • The parking is free
  • And need i mention that this is a stunningly beautiful space

It’s true that Richmond Hill is not Toronto, but a suburb.  It took me less than an hour just after rush hour to get there from downtown, so it’s not far, but even so, some people aren’t willing to make the drive.  I would say this is a mistake.   Having made the drive, i am planning to repeat the experience, likely with the next performance of Cosi fan tutte.   Richmond Hill is not far away, yet still feels like a small town. Everyone i met today was friendly; no offense Toronto, but you’re pretty rude in comparison.  I had more warm fuzzy encounteres with staff in the lobby before the opera, than i’ve had in the past week at home.  I felt as though i’d gone on a vacation (sigh).

What about Mozart’s opera?

Cosi fan tutte is one of those operas that rewards the risk of employing a youthful cast. The romantic plotlines of opera work better when we’re watching attractive couples onstage.  I am accustomed to seeing this opera treated with a certain respect, likely because of Mozart.  Opera York’s approach is somewhat daring, as the comedy was played with more edge than I’ve seen.  Given that humour is a subjective thing, some might find it a tad over-the-top, but for me it was refreshing.

tenor Ryan Harper

Dion Mazerolle as Don Alfonso, was the vocal star of the evening, showing delicate pianissimos in the famous trio, articulating his words flawlessly, and lending a genuine sense of maturity to the proceedings.  His portrayal was restrained, unlike the antics of the two young men.  Anthony Cleverton’s Guglielmo felt like the straight man in the comic pairings of the two male leads; and Cleverton’s singing was a conventional reading that comfortably negotiated Mozart’s challenges with a lovely warm sound.  Ryan Harper, in contrast, played the funniest Ferrando I have ever encountered, whether in his physicality, his endless repertoire of facial expressions, or his ironic delivery of lines.

The women, too, took a contrasting approach to their portrayals.   Marcelle Boisjoli as Dorabella sang her aria in the first act very comically, whether in her droll singing, moans and a wonderfully long face.  Rachel Cleland was the more serious of the two women as Fiordiligi, which is apt for the way the part is written. Cleland unveiled a big powerful voice for her passionate Act 1 aria (“come scoglio” when it’s done in Italian, but sung in English), yet otherwise  played up maidenly restraint for comic effect.  As the maid Despina, Anna Bateman was very energetic in her comedy, with a lovely clear voice.  At the end Bateman chose an unconventional approach, seeming disgruntled by the outcome, as if disapproving of the entire game played by Don Alfonso, possibly adding a modern feministic tinge to the denouement.  Her darker demeanour was a wonderful contrast to the prevailing jollity at the conclusion.

We had the benefit of two music directors tonight.  Geoffrey Butler, who conducted, steps aside for Saturday’s performance, when Sabatino Vacca our harpsichordist will lead the performance from the keyboard.  Vacca brought a wonderful flourish to many of the recitatives.  Butler kept the orchestra and singers together, leading the performance at a very intelligible pace, which is to say, the singers were mostly clear in their enunciation and never drowned out by the Opera York orchestra.

The costumes – by Amanda Eason—were a persuasive window on the 18th century, including the silliest Albanian outfits I have ever seen.  The first thing that popped into my head was “two wild and crazy guys…” because they were indeed cruising for chicks in tight slacks, plus silly wigs.

Cosi fan tutte has one remaining performance at the Richmond Hill Centre, this Saturday March 5th at 8 o’clock.

This entry was posted in Art, Architecture & Design, Opera, Reviews. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Opera York’s Cosi fan tutte in Richmond Hill

  1. Judi Hopper says:

    Love your blog Leslie. Is there a better topic upon which to expound that the arts? I will be at Saturday’s Cosi performance so will look for the many excellent and inciteful parts that you commented on.
    At the dress rehearsal last week, I too, was impressed by Anna Bateman’s interpretation of Despina!

  2. barczablog says:

    Thanks Judi. I feel bad i couldn’t say more (I was writing last night after the show). Everyone sounded so wonderful in that beautiful space. You could hear the rich nuances of each voice, never drowned out by the orchestra. I’ll be back Saturday if i can manage it.

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