(l-r) Clarence Frazer as Figaro, Andrew Haji as Count Almaviva, Charlotte Burrage as Rosina, Gordon Bintner as Don Basilio, Karine Boucher as Berta and Iain MacNeil as Doctor Bartolo. Photo: Michael Cooper
Reviewed by James Karas
The Canadian Opera Company does much more than produce operas. Through its Ensemble Studio, it also trains opera professionals. What is more the COC gives some of the students the opportunity to perform in a major production at the Four Seasons Centre before a live audience.
One of the twelve performances of The Barber of Seville (May 15, 2015) this year was given to the Ensemble with creditable results before an enthusiastic audience.
Ensemble Studio member Clarence Frazer replaced Joshua Hopkins as Figaro in the regular performance on May 13 and sang the role in the Ensemble Studio production. Like most starters, he needs some polishing in his performance but there is no reason not to expect to see him again.
The role of Count Almaviva was shared by tenors Andrew Haji in Act I and Jean-Philippe Fortier-Lazure in Act II. Haji has a fine mid-range but his high notes still need some development. Set Designer Joan Guillén has created an oversized guitar on which the tenor perches when serenading Rosina in the opening scene. It is not a comfortable place to be on and loss of footing could result in a tumble on the stage. Not a good place to deliver an aria from.
Fortier-Lazure has a fine, light voice and some nice comic touches in his performance in Act II. Mezzo-soprano Charlotte Burrage sang a fine and lively Rosina but she needed to be a bit more assertive in “Una voce poco fa.” Rosina is playful and self-assured but she almost needs to show some teeth to convince us that she will be victorious no matter what the obstacles. Still a very good performance.
Charlotte Burrage as Rosina and Jean-Philippe Fortier-Lazure as Count Almaviva. Photo: Michael Cooper
Bass-baritone Iain MacNeil is only a first-year member of the Ensemble Studio and was given the role of the comical and foolish Dr. Bartolo. It takes some good singing and clowning to succeed in the part and MacNeil did just fine.
Rosina’a governess Berta gets to hang around for most of the evening but Rossini did write a very pleasant aria for her, “Il vecchiotto cerca moglie (“The old man seeks a wife”). Soprano Karine Boucher, a first year Ensemble Studio member, has a very attractive voice with a lilt and she gave a splendid rendition of the aria.
Unfortunately, Director Joan Font and Costume and Set Designer Joan Guillén seem to work against her. As she was singing a couple was making a bed on top of the over-sized grand piano. They laid sheets, a blanket, a pillow and got under the blanket. This type of side-show is the hallmark of this production and it was annoying throughout the performance.
The performance is judged through the prism of seeing young singers honing their skills based on their innate talents. Unlike the regular cast, the Ensemble Studio members get only a single performance unless they replace a singer whom they are understudying.
What they do is good for everyone especially for the enthusiastic audience that gave them a standing ovation.
The Barber of Seville by Giacomo Rossini with libretto by Cesare Sterbini was performed once on May 15, 2015 by mostly members of the COC Ensemble Studio at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, 145 Queen Street West, Toronto, Ontario. Tel: 416-363-6671. www.coc.ca