Opera Lyra’s spirited take on Rossini’s classic comic opera The Barber of Seville has something for everyone. The production brims with a cartoon zaniness and uninhibited joy. From the chorus in their skivvies to the slapstick pranks played on the villain Bartolo there’s plenty of silliness and laugh out loud moments. Then there’s the music, with powerful performances of some of the most timeless melodies in the entire operatic repertoire you’re sure to be singing them in the shower for weeks after.
Musically, the production is very strong. Under the baton of guest conductor Giusseppe Pietraroia the NAC orchestra is in fine form, muscular yet precise and humming with rhythmic energy from start to finish.
Joshua Hopkins is a larger-than-life Figaro who sparkles with energy and a hustler’s charm. He’s a delight for both the eyes and the ears with a very natural stage presence and a rich, warm baritone both nimble and mighty that especially shines in the well-known aria “Largo al factotum” with its tongue twister lyrics and flurry of notes.
Marion Newman’s Rosina is charming, playful, and quite believable as a young starlet hemmed in by her keepers. Her sumptuous mezzo tone and impressive vocal agility takes the spotlight in “Una voce poco fa” where she warns she’ll attack anyone who crosses her, with the ferocity of a viper. Together Hopkins and Newman bring us one of the show’s finest moments in their duet (“Dunque io son…tu non m’inganni?”) where Figaro asks Rosina to write a love letter to the Count (in disguise, of course) and she shows him the one she’s already written. The scene buzzes with an infectious giddiness and scintillating vocals.
Peter McGillivray’s delivers a bravissimo performance as Bartolo the bumbling bully, playing up the role with spluttering fits of rage, explosive tantrums and lots of physical humour with consistently strong vocals throughout.
Isaiah Bell is a debonair Count Almaviva, with a pure-toned tenor voice who moves easily from aristocratic aloofness to weak-kneed ardour whenever he’s near Rosina. Though he had some issues with tight high notes opening night he made a solid overall impression as a young singer to watch.
While the solo arias are all quite well done in this production, Rossini’s musical genius is best on display in the swirling melodies and exquisite harmonies of the ensemble pieces featuring the gorgeous blend of multiple lead voices.
Stage director Dennis Garnhum has reset the story in a 1940s European film studio, where one might expect all the hijinks and silliness that unfolds in Rossini’s animated opera. The action takes place in the studio’s industrial and unglamorous backstage warehouse space. Given that Rosina is kept prisoner in her trailer the drabness is just right. While the set is visually quite busy with lots of props, its muted vintage colour scheme provides a contrast to the bright colours in the leads’ costumes that give them an extra visual pop. All around the costumes are fantastic with lots of fedoras, pinstripe suits and goons dressed like old-timey gangsters.
This Barber is also a self-aware one from the security guard casually snacking on a carrot during the overture in a nod to Bugs Bunny, to the villainous Bartolo ridiculing opera, to Rosina starring as Carmen in Carmen, another popular opera also set in Seville. The subtitles appearing above the stage are great for keeping the audience in the know and much more effective than straight translations that often sacrifice the music’s lyrical flow.
All in all Opera Lyra’s infuses Barber of Seville with a welcome exuberance making it a guaranteed crowd pleaser full of fun, laughter and lots of great tunes.
Opera Lyra’s Barber of Seville has only two more shows, on September 30 and October 3. Tickets are available through Ticketmaster.