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La Scena Musicale - Mises jour / Updates
E-mail: | Web: (c) La Scena Musicale 1999

COC's Barber and Xerxes: a Winning Combination

by Joseph So

There is nothing like a couple of comedies to brighten a drab Toronto winter. And if ticket sales are any indication, the Canadian Opera Company hit the jackpot this season.

Opening night of Barber of Seville was particularly auspicious, as it featured three young Canadians - with Russell Braun in the title role, Met Auditions winner Isabel Bayrakdarian as Rosina, and COC Ensemble tenor Michael Colvin as Count Almaviva. In the best Hollywood tradition, Bayrakdarian and Colvin were given the proverbial "big break" by singing opening night (Jan 21)and the second performance (Jan 24), and they did not disappoint. (Photo: Michael Cooper: photographer, COC, 1999)

The role of Rosina fits Bayrakdarian like a glove. She makes an enchanting Rosina, with just the right amount of spunk, charm, and vocal allure. When the originally scheduled tenor Alain Gabriel fell ill, Colvin was pressed into service with very short notice, and he acquitted himself splendidly. Possessing a sweet, well-focused tenor, Colvin is utterly convincing vocally and dramatically. Braun returns to the COC as Figaro, one of his signature roles. He sings with clarion power and acts up a storm, without a doubt one of the premiere Figaros today. The two buffo roles are in capable hands, in the persons of Donato Di Stefano (Dr. Bartolo) and Umberto Chiummo (Don Basilio). Di Stefano is simply Bartolo, down to his quivering double-chin. (Photo: Michael Cooper: photographer, COC, 1999)

This is an unusually physical production, and the broad comedic touches come across as genuinely funny most of the time. Credit must go to Albert Takazauckas, the director. The production, last seen in 1991-92 season, is traditional and rather generic looking, but perfectly acceptable. Bradshaw conducts with his usual vigour, although the horns came to grief in the overture on more than one occasion.

On January 27, the original cast Rosina (Mika Shigematsu) and Almaviva (Alain Gabriel) sang for the first time. Shigematsu has a plummy mezzo of great flexibility and assurance, with a middle voice that recalls a young Marilyn Horne. But it lacks the cutting edge to project in the huge Hummingbird Centre. Gabriel, perhaps still suffering from the flu bug that hit him upon his arrival for rehearsals, gave a vocally troubled performance, running into heavy weather in his passaggio most of the evening.

Future performances (Feb. 2 and 6) are already soldout.


It is hard to believe, but Xerxes marks the first time a Handel opera has been staged by the COC. The Company couldn't have picked a better production. Originally produced at Santa Fe and subsequently revived in Seattle and New York, Toronto is likely the last stop for this spectacular show, which is a shame. One rarely encounters a production as stunningly beautiful as this, where the singing, sets, costumes, lighting, direction, and conducting all comes together for one of the most satisfying operatic experiences in recent memory.

While American counter-tenor sensation David Daniels garners most of the press notices, there is not a weak link in the cast, headed by the extraordinary Xerxes of Canadian mezzo Kimberly Barber, who is making a triumphant return to the COC where she was an Ensemble member a dozen years ago. Kathleen Brett (Romilda), sings with consistently gorgeous tone. Her interplay with Daniels (Arsamene) works beautifully. Daniels lived up to all the advance hype, singing with stunning coloratura in fast music and plangent tone in the quieter passages, bringing down the house with his Act 2 lament. Phyllis Pancella (Amastre) makes the most of a thankless role, while British soprano Susannah Waters (replacing the originally announced Tracy Dahl) acts up a storm as the ditzy Atalanta. Her excellent effort was marred by the occasional errant pitch and moments of flatness on January 28. Perhaps the sleeper of the production is the Elviro of former Ensemble member Doug MacNaughton. His voice has grown by leaps and bounds, and his portrayal as the Flower Seller is nothing short of hilarious. Noel Davies works wonders with the reduced COC orchestra. Even with generally brisk tempi, the show lasts a good three and a half hours, but nobody seems to complain. Future performances will be on Feb. 3, 5, 7.


(c) La Scena Musicale 1999