Thursday, March 22, 2012

Review: (Vancouver) The Barber of Seville

Joshua Hopkins as Figaro, Sandra Piques Eddy as Rosina (photo credit: Tim Matheson.)

Lights, camera, Figaro!
Vancouver Opera seduces with Rossini
by Angela Descalzi
If you watched the Looney Tunes as a child, you will remember Bugs Bunny’s version of The Barber of Seville. That was my first ever encounter with Figaro and this comedic opera. It remained in my memory for years, up until last night, when for the first time, I went to see the Vancouver Opera’s production at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre.
...this fun and witty piece might change the minds of those who think opera is boring.

As a young Vancouverite, going to the Opera is not usually on your list of things to do for fun. Not only because of the ticket prices, but also because of the perception most people have of this kind of performance. Opera is still believed to be something rich, cultured people do, and completely inaccessible to those who have never set foot in an art appreciation class. Furthermore, the thought of sitting inside a theatre for almost three hours, listening to people sing is not necessarily appealing for most. However, this fun and witty piece might change the minds of those who think opera is boring. 
Originally written by Gioachino Rossini as an opera buffa, this production of The Barber of Seville has been adapted to take place in a 1940’s film studio back-lot in, you guessed it, Seville. Count Almaviva (tenor René Barbera) falls madly in love with actress Rosina (mezzo-soprano Sandra Piques Eddy) and asks hairstylist Figaro (baritone Joshua Hopkins) to help him trick her agent and studio owner Bartolo (bass-baritone Thomas Hammons) who, next to music teacher Basilio (bass-baritone Thomas Goertz), is scheming to marry the starlet in order to get his hands on her wealth. With clever Figaro by his side, Almaviva poses as Lindoro, an extra playing a soldier, and manages to meet Rosina and fool Bartolo. Through letters and secret meetings, they fall in love and, despite the obstacles placed by her agent and music teacher, they find the way to get married and live happily ever after. 
Even though I wasn’t entirely convinced by the particular location of this adaptation, I thoroughly enjoyed the way director Dennis Garnhum incorporated wigs, mannequins, moving clothes racks and film equipment to the story. The background actors, who would have been the people of Seville, were replaced by extras in different costumes from different movies. The set was very well constructed, but I don’t think the space was used well. Rosina’s dressing room, which was mounted on a revolving set piece on a platform, is the centre of most of the action, yet I found it to be a bit too small and thus under used the majority of the stage. The costumes were, of course, stunning. If you are a fan of 40’s and 50’s fashion as I am, then you will not be disappointed. From head to toe, every single actor was dressed and styled with beautiful hats, suits, dresses and shoes that made my mouth water. 
Sandra Piques Eddy was a delight to watch and thus Rosina became one of my favorites in the piece. Of all of them, I felt like she had the most fun with her character and was not afraid to be goofy and grand; something I would have liked to see more in Joshua Hopkins, who was charming and lovable, but not quite as farcical as I was expecting Figaro to be. Thomas Hammons played the perfect sleazy, old man and his comedic timing was right on the dot. Needless to say, he was hilarious. René Barbera was a bit dry for my personal taste, as I didn’t fully see Count Almaviva in him. Having said that, his voice was magnificent and the chemistry he and Hammons shared made them infallible partners in crime.
With the direction of conductor Robert Tweten, the orchestra played the bubbly scores with a lot of energy and grace. It had been a long time since I saw a live orchestra, so that was a definite plus in my experience at the Vancouver Opera. 
The show as a whole was a pleasure to watch. Everything from its vivacious music, to the witty script, and its funny characters made it for a fun night. I am glad to see that the Vancouver Opera is challenging themselves to create adaptations that are much more appealing for younger audiences. I myself can say that I will go back to see their next show; the $35 dollar ticket is definitely worth it.

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