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Ludwig Van
Toronto Montreal

SCRUTINY | Superlative Vocalism And Marvelous Conducting Make Barber Revival A Must-See

By Joseph So on January 20, 2020

Maestro Speranza Scappucci conducted a superlative version of Rossini’s comedic opera ‘The Barber of Seville’ with an ensemble cast that was without a weak link.

Santiago Ballerini as Count Almaviva (right) in the Canadian Opera Company’s production of The Barber of Seville, 2020, photo: Michael Cooper
Santiago Ballerini as Count Almaviva (right) in the Canadian Opera Company’s production of The Barber of Seville, 2020 (Photo: Michael Cooper)

Rossini: Il barbiere di Siviglia / Vito Priante (Figaro); Emily D’Angelo (Rosina); Santiago Ballerini (Almaviva); Renato Girolami (Bartolo); Brandon Cedel (Basilio); Simona Genga (Berta); Joel Allison (Fiorello); Vartan Gabrielian (Officer). COC Orchestra & Chorus; Speranza Scappucci, conductor. 2 p.m. Four Seasons Centre, January 19, 2020.

The dreary Toronto winter getting you down? Suffering the post-Christmas blahs? Have no fear, the Barber is here!

To be more precise — it’s Figaro, in the rip-roaringly funny Rossini opera Il barbiere di Siviglia, the perfect winter tonic. Based on worldwide statistics (2004-2018), it is #9 in popularity out of more than 2,500+ operas, having received 6,581 performances in 1,441 productions. Last seen five years ago at the COC, the marvellous production by Joan Font of Els Comediants is back, with debuting Italian conductor Speranza Scappucci at the helm.

The last female conductor at the COC was Canadian Keri Lynn Wilson, in a revival of Tosca in the 2016-17 season. Now we have Maestra Scappucci, who’s enjoying a thriving career conducting at leading opera houses the likes of the Wiener Staatsoper, Semperoper Dresden, Opera royal de Wallonie, and Opernhaus Zurich.

(l-r) Vito Priante as Figaro and Renato Girolami as Bartolo in the Canadian Opera Company’s production of The Barber of Seville, 2020, (Photo: Michael Cooper)
(l-r) Vito Priante as Figaro and Renato Girolami as Bartolo in the Canadian Opera Company’s production of The Barber of Seville, 2020, (Photo: Michael Cooper)

In the opening yesterday, she conducted the overture in a stunningly brisk tempo, fastest I’ve ever heard — but everything was executed with great precision and total control. The full house gave the debuting conductor and the orchestra such sustained applause that she turned to the house to acknowledge the ovation, and she asked the orchestra to stand.

In my 48 years of attending the COC — my first show was an Aida in 1972 — this was the first time in memory that I have witnessed this. It was no fluke — Scappucci went on to conduct a scintillating performance, one of the very best I’ve heard. Let’s hope she’ll be back in future seasons.

The performance on stage was equal to that from the pit. It was an evening of many highlights, with an ensemble cast that was without a weak link. Debuting Argentinean tenor Santiago Ballerini was outstanding as Almaviva, his high tenor — with high C’s to burn — is reminiscent of a young Juan Diego Florez. Here’s another artist that I for one would love to hear again in Toronto.

Santiago Ballerini as Count Almaviva and Emily D’Angelo as Rosina in the Canadian Opera Company’s production of The Barber of Seville, 2020 (Photo: Michael Cooper)
Santiago Ballerini as Count Almaviva and Emily D’Angelo as Rosina in the Canadian Opera Company’s production of The Barber of Seville, 2020 (Photo: Michael Cooper)

Canadian mezzo Emily D’Angelo, now an international star, totally embodied Rosina, acting up a storm and singing “Una voce poco fa” and everything else with an endless flow of lovely tones, especially at the top. Being such a statuesque Rosina, the Almaviva (the diminutive Ballerini), even in heels, remained half a head shorter, but that just added to the comedy. The staging of Act 2 Singing Lesson scene was screamingly funny.

Returning to the COC is veteran basso buffo Renato Girolami as Doctor Bartolo, who’s every bit as funny as last time. His makeup and costume was absolutely perfect. In fact, the Joan Font production is full of nice touches that added to the comedy. The rotating grand piano cum wedding banquet table, the silver tree, and other design features reveal a well thought out production.

I still love the staging the second time around. That said, I do find that there’s just a bit too much extraneous “stage business,” so much so that I was a bit distracted from focusing on the main event. This is also a highly choreographed show, down to every little movement involving everybody onstage. There were moments I felt I was watching a Broadway musical, which I suppose is not necessarily a bad thing!

Emily D’Angelo as Rosina, Joel Allison as Fiorello, Santiago Ballerini as Count Almaviva and Vito Priante as Figaro in the Canadian Opera Company’s production of The Barber of Seville, 2020 (Photo: Michael Cooper)
Emily D’Angelo as Rosina, Joel Allison as Fiorello, Santiago Ballerini as Count Almaviva and Vito Priante as Figaro in the Canadian Opera Company’s production of The Barber of Seville, 2020 (Photo: Michael Cooper)

This performance also marked the debut of French baritone Vito Priante as a vocally superlative Figaro. What a voice! Even if he didn’t quite ham it up like the others, it’s okay in my book. I also appreciated that he didn’t go into the tiresome falsetto like a zillion other baritones in “Largo al factotum.” Returning to the COC after his fine Colline in La boheme last season, American bass-baritone Brandon Cedel was a vivid Basilio, his “La calunnia” a highlight of the evening.

The supporting roles were all well taken by COC Ensemble artists, with Simona Genga (Berta) interpolating an impressive high note in her aria. Bass-baritone Joel Allison was Fiorello, a perfect foil for Almaviva. All in all, a great way to spend a wintry Sunday afternoon. Seven more performances running to February 7. Details here.

#LUDWIGVAN

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Joseph So

Joseph So is Professor Emeritus at Trent University and Associate Editor of Opera Canada.He is also a long-time contributor to La Scena Musicale and Opera (London, UK). His interest in music journalism focuses on voice, opera as well as symphonic and piano repertoires. He appears regularly as a panel member of the Big COC Podcast.He has co-edited a book, Opera in a Multicultural World: Coloniality, Culture, Performance, published by Routledge (Taylor & Francis Group).

Joseph So

Joseph So is Professor Emeritus at Trent University and Associate Editor of Opera Canada.He is also a long-time contributor to La Scena Musicale and Opera (London, UK). His interest in music journalism focuses on voice, opera as well as symphonic and piano repertoires. He appears regularly as a panel member of the Big COC Podcast.He has co-edited a book, Opera in a Multicultural World: Coloniality, Culture, Performance, published by Routledge (Taylor & Francis Group).
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