Barber of Sevillie is a comedic and cultural gem

Barber of Seville is a comedic and cultural gem

Vancouver Opera
March 17-25

Figaro (Joshua Hopkins) “fools around” with Rosina (Sandra Piques Eddy).
– photo courtesy of Vancouver Opera

Rossini’s Overture to the Barber of Seville is one of the most perfect pieces of music ever composed.  It stays with you for the rest of your life.  A quick listen of a few notes will remind you of the Bugs Bunny cartoon “The Rabbit of Figaro” or the movie “Breaking Away” with the young bicyclist racing down the roads of the American mid-west.  But at the Vancouver Opera, when most operas leave the stage curtain down and simply play the overture, for this production the curtain was up and the characters of a 1940’s era movie backlot came on stage to move props around and attend to the wardrobe.  One of the workmen even came onstage, opened his lunch bucket, and took out a carrot, in a comic sight gag nod to Bugs Bunny.  Much more was to come, as this smallish three scene opera originally set around a barber shop in Seville, was made to fill the large stage that became a movie backlot full of visual delights.  And when the overture was finished, there were about twenty men all standing on stage in their underwear.

This opera can sometimes be a long one to sit through, leaving some who have seen it a few times before wanting to give it a pass. Kudos go to the VO designers and directors for a totally delightful and refreshing staging that keeps us entertained both musically and visually throughout.

Barber of Seville reminds of me some of the Shakespeare comedies, such as As You Like It or All’s Well That Ends Well, because of the disguises and miscommunication that result in the comedic plot.  In this Rossini opera, Rosina (now a young movie starlet) is overseen by Bartolo (now the movie director) who plans to marry her.  But Rosina is also being wooed by Count Almaviva who assumes a number of disguises to woo her and be in her presence.  Guess who wins the girl.

The character of Figaro the barber is both a matchmaker and mischief maker. He is sung brilliantly by Joshua Hopkins who is a crowd favourite. Sandra Piques Eddy plays Rosina, and is a flirtatious standout, easily reminding me of all the reasons why I fell in love with Italian-Canadian women. Rene Barbera as Count Almaviva is amazing especially with each costume change and disguise.  Thomas Hammons has to play the villainous svengali of Dr. Bartolo, who was sometimes hard to hear, but his broad actions more than conveyed the comedic nuances well beyond the middle of the mezzanine.

An all-North American cast performs this Italian opera, which was originally based on a trio of French plays by Pierre Beaumarchais.  As a comedy, many of the lines are spoken rather than sung.  This is one of the first times, I have really been able to pick out many of the words such as “Presto” and understand the action.  I like to say that Italian is the 3rd language I have learned, having studied classical music, and sitting at the QE Theatre, I really wished that I was fluent in Italian to really enjoy more of the production.  But it really is wonderful in any language.  The surtitles translate the meanings of the conversation, complete with 1940’s idioms and dialect.  The singing is excellent, the orchestra, lead by Robert Tweten, shines, and the music is some of the best ever composed.

More opera spoof.
– photo courtesy of Vancouver Opera

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