The Canadian Opera Company have revived their production of Rossini’s Barber of Seville. We saw it in 2015, a creation of the Spanish theatre troupe Els Comediants led by the team of director Joan Font & set/costume designer Joan Guillén.
I found that it’s better this time in two ways, ultimately coming down to one person.
First of all, everything was funnier. I was laughing my head off throughout, listening to an audience giggling with me. Why? It may sound simplistic bringing it all back to one person.
Last time while I did have some laughs, I found it political. Perhaps the whole thing seems so innocent for 2020, what with impeachments, forest fires & threats of war. But maybe it’s simply that the skill-sets of this group are different. Last time I was impressed by the direction & design in a show that seemed to overshadow its singers.
This time? a stunning array of talent in the lead roles, all sensitive to the stylistic requirements of the piece.
Santiago Ballerini is not just a wonderful singer, interpolating more high-notes (at least 3 high Cs, the last especially impressive) into the role of Almaviva than any tenor I’ve ever heard. He’s funny, with a gift for comedy even while singing beautifully.
Emily D’Angelo is every bit his equal for her comic chops but bringing a genuine weight to the role, serious when she had to be. Yes she sings it wonderfully well, a star in the making. She makes us care about Rosina.
Vito Priante is the most impressive Barber I’ve ever heard, speaking as someone reared on Robert Merrill and playing this score over for my own brother in the role. While his acting was not up to the brilliance of the other two his voice is the most remarkable baritone you’re ever likely to hear in this role, soaring up to his high “As” effortlessly, a light lyrical sound: but still a baritone, still a voice with weight.
For Bartolo we have Renato Girolami giving a clinic to teach you the genuine buffo style.
Put them all together and it’s breath-taking, quick as lightning. And that’s where the other person comes in.
Speranza Scappucci conducted some of the fastest tempi I’ve ever heard in this opera, especially in the finales & big ensembles. The wheels almost came off in the Act I finale, so hair-raising as to border on the unintelligible, but totally wild & crazy. Mind-boggling. Powerful. And yes very funny. Her reading of the overture drew the biggest ovation I think I’ve ever heard for a COC overture: because it was so original. In the final passages she kept the pedal to the floor, a pace that never let up. In the ensembles where the singers stop seeming like individual people and begin to resemble a big automated machine –there are a few of these—Scappucci was especially relentless. Did the singers swear at her behind her back? Shake their fists like the ballet dancers in Bye Bye Birdie (recalling that they are forced to dance at hyper-speed)? We may never know.
And yet in the arias & duets there was a stylistic give & take, fluidity, flexibility, a stylish reading even while making the performance fly by. Scappucci achieved a miracle of cohesion & pace, raising the comic stakes in that most old-fashioned of methods: through the music. The COC Orchestra sounded wonderful throughout.
This Barber is better than last time. While it’s a team effort it’s especially the work of the brilliant conductor. There are seven more performances, the last on February 7th . I hope (pun intended) to see it again. See and hear it if you can.