Johnathon Kirby, Stephanie Tritchew, Kevin Myers, Jeremy Ludwig, Giles Thomkins, Megan Miceli, Danlie Rae Acebuque, Wesley Hui, Lee Clapp, Arieh Sacke; Evan Mitchell, conductor; Jessica Derventzis, director. Factory Theatre, 7:30 p.m., June 15, 2018.
Opera 5 is a member of Indie Opera Toronto, an umbrella organization of eleven autonomous opera companies in the GTA that explore the operatic art form with 21st-century sensibilities. This evening I had my first Opera 5 experience, attending their production or Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia. It proved to be a memorable occasion.
As someone in his sixth decade (yes, I feel ancient!) of attending live opera, I’ve seen the Rossini comic gem more times than I can count. When done well, it’s a complete delight. By that I mean it needs to have great voices, singers who look and act the part, and clever stage direction. Given that we live in an age of Regieoper (Director-driven opera), I’ve seen more than my share of unusual productions in my annual European operatic trips. The best ones bring the works alive for contemporary tastes, while remaining respectful of the spirit of the original.
As I was leaving the theatre, a few thoughts came to mind, particularly how impressed I was. This Opera 5 Barbiere has fine singing actors, deft stage direction, and most of all, a sense of fun that’s not always present with productions of the past. It demonstrates that you don’t need mega-budgets and big stars to be successful — all you need are fresh, youthful voices, wise staging, and committed, enthusiastic performers.
Top kudos to baritone Johnathon Kirby as a beautifully sung and engaging Figaro. His voice and face remind me of a younger Canadian baritone Peter Barrett. Nimble of foot, Kirby moved very well and held the stage beautifully with his comic antics. I also like the fact that he sang “Largo al factotum” wonderfully, acting up a storm but without resorting to the tiresome falsetto for cheap laughs like so many baritones.
Tenor Kevin Myers has the ideally bright tone for a credible Lindoro — there were even moments when his clear, sweet,well-focused light tenor recalled the great Juan Diego Florez. The Act Two Lesson Scene, which to a jaded opera attendee can be a bit tedious, was beautifully executed and hilarious. A curious touch was the replacement of the piano by a guitar in the Lesson Scene, nicely played by Andrew Cloutier. It was probably out of logistic necessity more than anything else.
Lindoro’s nemesis is the old, crotchety Doctor Bartolo. Jeremy Ludwig’s fresh, sturdy baritone was a pleasure, and he was dramatically convincing. Bass-baritone Giles Tomkins, the veteran in the cast, brought experience and mellifluous tone to Basilio, including a nice “La calunna.”
This is one opera with only a single female principal, so a good Rosina is critical. Mezzo-soprano Stephanie Tritchew totally lived up to expectations. A true mezzo, she sang with solid, attractive tone and brought out the vixen-like quality of Rosina. While her lowest notes could use a bit more solidity, she possesses a fine and free upper register, and her show-stopping “Una voce poco fa” was scintillating.
The supporting roles were all well taken, particularly that of Berta by soprano Megan Miceli, who was a dead ringer for a very young Mrs. Padmore in Downton Abbey. Not only did she embody the role of the governess, her Act 2 aria was very well done — she even interpolated a stratospheric high note!
A really fine performance of Barbiere requires good ensemble work and this very well-rehearsed cast was completely up to the task. Having it in the Factory Theatre with a capacity of around 200 means everything is up-close and personal. The stage direction by Jessica Derventzis emphasized physicality and the cast had plenty of energy for the proper execution. It’s important to point out that the physical comedy was never over-the-top or vulgar, something that I cannot say about so many Barber productions I’ve seen, particularly in Europe. The choreographed movements gave it the feel of a Broadway musical, but I’d rather have this than some of the craziness routinely imposed on poor Rossini.
The small orchestra was situated upstage, allowing the voices to bloom. The eleven-musician sized band sounded way larger than one could reasonably expect. At the helm was Evan Mitchell, who proved to be a singer’s conductor. The limited staging area and the lack of a two-level set meant the Act Two storm scene and the elopement scene didn’t have quite the expected punch, but it was a minor blemish. All in all, it was a very laudable effort for a small company, and it bodes well for the future.
Opera 5’s Barber of Seville repeats Sunday, June 17 at 2 p.m. Details here.