Reviewed by James Karas
Opera Hamilton has launched its 2011-2012 season with a very funny and colorful production of The Barber of Seville at its new venue, the Irving Zucker Auditorium at The Dofasco Centre for the Arts.
The Barber is a comic chestnut that everyone has heard of and opera lovers have probably seen a good number of times. Can a director do something to make one sit up and say “I never thought of that”?
In the hands of Brent Krysa, the answer is a resounding “yes”. He treats The Barber like an excellent comedy, a play that needs good comic acting and re-acting with lots of inventive moves to add to the fun. He succeeds wonderfully. Examples of Krysa’s inventiveness abound. Here are two instances from the opening scene alone: when Figaro sings his famous entrance aria “Largo al factotum” he doesn’t just sing –he coifs an old man. When Count Almaviva wants to get rid of the “chorus” that is serenading his beloved Rosina at dawn, he doesn’t just shoo them away; he throws some money into the wings and the men scamper after it.
An interesting directorial touch: in the opening scene, Almaviva takes a sip from a flask that he carries with him. This gives the idea to Figaro for Almaviva to gain entry into Rosina’s house in the next scene as a drunk. Nice touch.
Krysa maintains his comic inventiveness throughout the evening in this well-paced and enjoyable comedy.
But we have gone to see an opera after all and not just a comedy and Opera Hamilton does a very good job in that regard as well.
Canadian baritone Hugh Russell has a big voice and considerable agility and comic talent. That makes for a very good Figaro who must outwit everyone.
South-African mezzo-soprano Lauren Segal made a splendid Rosina. She is very attractive and has a voice that she can lower to rich dark chocolate and raise it to delicious white cream. This Rosina gets what she wants but no one can blame Count Almaviva for loving her.
Tenor Edgar Ernesto Ramirez sang the role of Count Almaviva who appears as the ardent lover, drunken soldier and music teacher and finally successful wooer of Rosina. I found him a bit uncertain in his “Ecco ridente in cielo” but his voice settled down and he did a fine job after that.
Quebecois Alexandre Sylvestre was given comic license by Rossini which was augmented by Krysa and he was a funny and sonorous Dr. Bartolo, the buffoon who wants to marry his ward, Rosina.
Gordon Gerrard conducted the Opera Hamilton Orchestra and Chorus. The small orchestra produced a lot of good sound and the size of the theatre no doubt on their side in making them sound bigger.
The Barber needs two sets: a street scene and the interior of Dr. Bartolo’s house. A reversible and colourful wall served both purposes. The wings of the stage were not covered but one suspects there is only so much money allocated for sets and Opera Hamilton has done a lot with relatively little.
There was a glitch with the surtitles in Act II but it was fixed within a couple of minutes.
Opera Hamilton has a new home in the Dofasco Centre for the Performing Arts. I did not have time to examine the Irving Zucker Auditorium but it is much smaller and more intimate than the rather cavernous Great Hall of Hamilton Place. At 750 seats it is less than a third of Toronto’s Four Seasons for the Performing Arts. The dark gray paint gave it a steely austerity but the red seats provide some warmth. The acoustics seemed excellent and the small size obviously helps.
The Barber of Seville by Gioachino Rossini was performed on October 22, 25. 27 and 29, 2011 at Irving Zucker Auditorium, Dofasco Centre for the Performing Arts, 190 King William St. Hamilton Ontario. www.operahamilton.ca Tel. 905 527-7627