La Scena Musicale

Thursday, 30 April 2015

COC Ensemble Cast Gives a Terrific Barber Preview

The Futile Precaution: Highlights from The Barber of Seville (Review)

~ Joseph So

Artists of the Canadian Opera Company Ensemble Studio

Charlotte Burrage (Rosina)
Karine Boucher (Bertha)
Andrew Haji (Almaviva)
Jean-Philippe Fortier-Lazure (Almaviva)
Clarence Frazer (Figaro)
Iain MacNeil (Dr. Bartolo)
Jennifer Szeto, piano

Tuesday, April 28th 2015 / Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre

Rossini's Il barbiere di Siviglia, with its comic hijinks and vocal gymnastics, is tailor-made for young artists with fresh, flexible voices, nimble bodies and ready smiles.  That's just what we got on Tuesday, April 28 noon hour concert at the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre.  On May 15, the audience will get to hear these wonderful singers give their all in this great Rossini opera.  If you are not among the lucky ones with a ticket - the show is sold out - I hope you were among the ones enjoying the free preview on Tuesday.  The RBA was jammed on this occasion and it was a great show.  

 (back row l. to r.) Andrew Haji, Jean-Philippe Fortier-Lazure, Iain MacNeil
(front row) Clarence Frazer, Charlotte Burrage, Karine Boucher
All photos by Karen Reeves 

It's amazing how much can be crammed into 60 minutes!  It started with the Overture, nicely played by COC Ensemble pianist Jennifer Szeto. She was busier than anyone else in this show, negotiating the many arias and ensembles non-stop and without missing a beat.  Clarence Frazer sang and acted a terrific "Largo al factotum", entering from the upper level. This baritone is singing the best I've heard him, with a blazing top and great stage presence - you really need a true ham to be a Figaro. And I appreciate his not going into the tiresome falsetto in the aria. I must say I was also very impressed with the stage direction, though not sure who's the director here.  Okay a lot of it was Joan Font's but I imagine an assistant director adapted it to the RBA space?

Clarence Frazer as a larger than life Figaro

Then Andrew Haji gave us "Ecco ridente in cielo," For a big guy, he moves extremely well, and he was dramatically endearing. His lyric tenor with its rich and hall-filling sound was a real pleasure. Though not a natural bel canto singer as his voice is larger than a typical Rossini tenor - and I've heard cleaner runs and fioritura by other tenors albeit with smaller voices - Haji's golden tones made up for it. Then it was the warm, sweet, ingratiating tenore di grazia of Jean-Philippe Fortier-Lazure, singing the serenade beautifully. Haji and Frazer's duet, "Se il mio nome saper voi bramate" where Lindoro pays Figaro to help him get into Dr. Bartolo's house was vividly acted and both singers have fine Italian parlando.
Almaviva (Andrew Haji) bribing Figaro (Clarence Frazer)

Then it was mezzo Charlotte Burrage's turn to shine with the showstopper "Una voce poco fa." In a recent interview I had with Burrage, she mentions that this Rosina is her first coloratura role. With this aria, Burrage shows that not only is she ideal in German and Mozart operas, her rich, well focused, slightly cool timbre with good flexibility and an excellent top register also makes her an engaging Rosina. Arguably she could be a bit more playful in the duet "Dunque io son" with Figaro (Clarence Frazer), but it was beautifully sung by both.     

Charlotte Burrage in "Una voce poco fa"

Iain MacNeil, as Dr. Bartolo, doesn't get to shine as much in this highlights concert - his participation is down to one scene with Rosina. Bartolo is perhaps more an acting than singing role, but MacNeil was very good in this scene, singing with youthful tone and excellent flexibility.  Similarly, the beautiful soprano of Karine Boucher is underused in this opera as the maid Bertha. However, leave it to Ms. Boucher to turn a comprimaria to almost a starring role with her acting  hijinks in "Il vecchiotto cerca moglie" as the "downstairs" Bertha, complete with braided hair and flat shoes. The festivities drew to a close with a comically choreographed "Mi par d'esser colla testa," a fun finale to the opera. I confess I'm not a huge fan of these rather automaton-like writing by Rossini, but with these young singers, they won me over.  The audience understandably was extremely enthusiastic at the end, giving the artists a sustained, rousing ovation. This promises to be a great show on May 15.  If you have a ticket, be prepared for a fun time. 

Charlotte Burrage and Clarence Frazer in "Dunque io son"

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