BrottOpera’s “The Barber of Seville”–A Triumph

Review by Hugh Fraser

BrottOpera’s climatic performance of Rossini’s comic opera  Barber of Seville, Thursday night in Mohawk College’s McIntyre Centre for the Performing Arts, did more than just cut it.

It was a triumph.

This was mainly due to someone called Christopher Dunham, who sang the role of the barber, Figaro. Possessed of an enormous baritone voice that he used with great musicality and intelligence, he proved he could not only sing like a god but act brilliantly, dance, play the guitar for his serenade and probably do stand up and improv if asked nicely (i.e. paid well).

It is very hard for me to say the conventional things about Dunham – that when he becomes a star, we will remember the first time we heard him, yada yada yada. That’s because it’s very hard of me not to look upon him as a star already.

His famous aria, Largo al factotum, despite its dread familiarity – we all recall Bugs Bunny nailing it for Loony Toons – was fresh, very funny and musically ravishing.

The other great thing about this production was Dunham was carrying no one on his back.

One hundred and fifteen of the best young singers in Canada were auditioned and just these seven cast members chosen.

Unsurprisingly, there wasn’t a dud amongst them.

Mezzo soprano Charlotte Burrage, who sang the love interest role of Rosina, faced a personal bias of mine that I must declare right away.

I like my Rosinas sung by sopranos. I know Rossini originally wrote the role for  the lower voice of mezzo but soon changed his mind and even deleted a mezzo aria in ActII because sopranos had taken over the role.

This is no criticism of Burrage but the mezzo voice is just deeper, heavier and seems less flexible when facing the scintillating coloratura gymnastics of Rosina’s big aria Una voce poco fa, unless you are a singer-of-the-century such a Rene Fleming. My prejudice aside Burrage was an excellent Rosina.

Tenor David Menzies has no such trouble as RosIna’s love Count Almaviva (alias Lindoro). He possesses a fine, lyric tenor voice ideal for the role and used it very well. He is also a very stylish comic actor (in disguise as the drunken soldier and the bleating idiot Don Alfonso). I have never heard more genuine laughter at a Barber performance than I heard on Thursday night.

I felt rather sorry for Jeremy Ludwig’s poor old buffoon Dr. Bartolo. Young, tall, good looking enough to sweep Rosina off her feet, he had to invent a Ministry Of Funny Walks limp and a cough worthy of a dying-of-consumption Mimi in La Boheme to desperately try and convince the audience he was even half as old as 90 per cent of us. A little grey hair would have gone a long way in helping him look right.

He had no trouble with the music and was an excellent Bartolo.

As I have said there wasn’t a dud in the cast and one ached to hear Aaron Durand (Fiorello and the Police Officer), Helene Brunet (Berta the maid) and Keith Lam as music teacher, sly plotter (Don Basilio) sing roles worthy of their obviously gorgeous voices.

Do I have a carp or two?

Of course. The opera was set in the 1920s, my least favourite period look. Shapeless flappers, blazers and boaters cause me to meh. Fiorello had to drop the Count’s golf clubs to screw up the “quiet” serenade and worst of all as the Count was bribing Figaro to “factotum” his wooing of Rosina, the text is full of “wow, see what metal does for my brain. Gold makes it explode etc. etc.” as the Count is passing him paper money.

The Dollar Store has these gold coins, with chocolate in them, too, for about a buck a bag. Just saying.

The chorus hid behind their scores, even when entering upstage as the cops.

Otherwise, lighting, utterly basic scenery that you’d expect from what was an opera in concert worked really well. That was due to stage director Ellen Douglas Schlaefer’s great choreography and excellent direction. The National Academy Orchestra was sparkling. Light, nimble and perfectly paced by Brott’s accomplished accompaniment.

An opera in concert has many problems. The orchestra in on the same level as the singers, the conductor’s back is to the singers and their backs are towards him.

What could go wrong?


What went wrong?