La Scena Musicale

Sunday, 30 October 2011

Beautiful Voices and Youthful Enthusiasm Carry the Day in Opera Hamilton's Barber

Rosina (Lauren Segal) and Figaro (Hugh Russell) up to their antics in OH's Barber of Seville
(Photo: Opera Hamilton)

by Joseph K. So

Hugh Russell (Figaro)
Lauren Segal (Rosina)
Edgar Ernesto Ramirez (Almaviva)
Alexandre Sylvestre (Bartolo)
Giles Tomkins (Basilio)
Wendy Hatala Foley (Berta)
James Levesque (Fiorello)

Gordon Gerrard, conductor
Brent Krysa, stage director
Peter Oleskevich, chorus master

Theatre Aquarius October 25 2011

It started badly - no, not the performance, but my journey getting there. I have made the trek from Toronto down the QEW to Hamilton many, many times to catch a performance at Opera Hamilton. In fact, I remember the 1970's when it was part of Festival Italia before it became Opera Hamilton. All those years, when the traffic gods were willing, I could make it in about an hour. In recent years, congestion and construction have gotten so much worse that to play it safe, I have had to allow two and a half hours to get there in order to have a quick bite before the show. Last Tuesday, in grid-lock traffic, I just made to the Theatre Aquarius after the overture had already started - all told a 2 hour 55 minutes of driving torture. However unpleasant the trip and despite sitting through a two and a half hour opera on an empty stomach, I was amply rewarded by a very enjoyable performance of the Rossini warhorse, Barber of Seville.

It starred an ensemble cast of enthusiastic singing actors with youthful voices. Top vocal honours went to Canadian mezzo Lauren Segal. Former member of the COC Ensemble Studio, Segal is one of the best current crop of mezzo-sopranos in Canada. She has a glamorous stage presence to go with her gleaming, luscious timbre. She is a genuine mezzo with an even scale from top to bottom. On this occasion, Segal sang "Una voce poco fa" with coloratura not ideally accurate and she avoided some of the high notes. Yet she nailed the high note at the end of her aria brilliantly, so I think it's a matter of not having fully warmed up in the beginning. Overall, she sang with lovely tone and attractive stage persona. This is her first bel canto role so it's understandable her Rosina remains a work in progress. Mexican-American tenor Edgar Ernesto Ramirez made an auspicious debut as Almaviva, singing with sweet tone and a ringing top. His is a voice to watch. Canadian Hugh Russell has a robust, virile baritone, at its best in the middle register. I also like the fact that he didn't go into falsetto for cheap laughs in "Largo al factotum." A good actor with a comic flair, his Barber was a pleasure. Also praiseworthy was the Bartolo of Alexandre Sylvestre, who has made quite a specialty of buffo roles. Bass-baritone Giles Tomkins took advantage of Basilio's brief moments in the spotlight.

Stage director Brent Krysa did a fine job with the young cast, with some genuinely funny moments. The orchestra under Gordon Gerrard played well, but from where I was sitting -under the overhang near the back of the auditorium - the orchestra lacked sufficient impact. I could hear the voices loud and clear, but the orchestra sounded muffled. Theatre Aquarius has good sightlines and a feeling of intimacy, but whether it is an ideal venue for opera remains to be seen. The production itself was lovely, with terrific costumes - the men in various permutations of stripes are particularly striking. If I were to quibble, the lighting changes were much too abrupt - good light should be unobtrusive lighting. Overall, this was a successful first production at the Theatre Aquarius for Opera Hamilton.



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