The Ensemble Studio got to do their thing last night with their annual main stage performance; this year, of course, Joan Font’s production of The Barber of Seville. This year only one role was split; Andrew Haji singing Almaviva in Act 1 with Jean-Philippe Fortier-Lazure coming off the bench for the second half. The other main roles went to Clarence Frazer as Figaro, Charlott Burrage as Rosina, Iain McNeil as Doctor Bartolo, Gordon Bintner as Don Basilio and Karine Boucher as Berta. Ringer Jan Vaculik sang both Fiorello and the Officer.
It was very good. As I said in reviewing the second cast on Saturday this is a show that needs impeccable comic timing and, thus, plenty of rehearsal time. They had that and Associate Director Tanya Kane-Perry seems to have made the most of it. The result was a show as fast paced and funny as the main cast which had a fairly packed (technically sold out) Four Seasons Centre laughing a lot. The singing didn’t yield much to the more experienced team either. Frazer was as assured and commanding as in his unexpected appearance on Saturday and Charlotte Burrage was accurate, smoky toned and very sexy. That’s three sexy Rosinas in one production; not bad going. Iain McNeil was really good as Bartolo. It can’t be easy for a young singer to sing or act the classic commedia randy old goat but Iain was very convincing. The same, in a smaller role, for Gordon Bintner. Karine Boucher’ Berta was quite different from Aviva Fortunata’s. It was well sung but much more conventional and I have to say it made me think what a smart move it was to have a dramatic soprano in the main production because it did produce a WTF change of mood that highlighted that the piece isn’t all chuckles.
And so to the Almavivas. It’s been pointed out by many critics that this is a very Almaviva centric production. Haji made the most of it. It was smart to have him sing Act 1 (originally they were scheduled the other way round). He has the Italianate sound and the coloratura for the role matched to more power and sheer beauty of tone than one often hears. Indeed in the last department he had the edge on either of the tenors singing in the main production. He can act too though not perhaps with the kind of manic JDF style that Fortier-Lazure pulled out in Act 2. It made sense that he got the crazily comic Don Alonso scene which he pulled off very well. He sang very well too but most any young tenor is going to have a hard time following Haji on current form.
This annual performance is fast becoming an event and deservedly so. Last night all of the house, bar the fifth ring, was open and sold out though there were quite a few empty seats. Maybe COC can try and fill the whole house next year? It will be Claus Guth’s production of Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro and it’s on Monday, February 22nd next year.
Photo credits: Michael Cooper