The COC is greatly saddened by the news of the passing of Peter Collins, COC Ensemble Studio member from 2001-2004, who is remembered as a great friend and colleague with a beautiful tenor voice. We look back at some of the productions he was involved with, and wish his family and friends comfort in their time of grief.
2006/2007 Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk - Zinovy understudy
Das Rheingold - Loge & Froh understudy
2005/2006 Wozzeck - Drum Major understudy
The Magic Flute - First Armed Man/Priest/Ensemble
Götterdämmerung - chorus (and Norma chorus)
2004/2005 The Handmaid's Tale - Commander X
2003/2004 Peter Grimes - Peter Grimes (understudy)
Dido and Aeneas - Sailor
Coffee Cantata - Tenor (understudy)
Turandot - Prince of Persia & Calaf (understudy)
Die Walküre - Siegmund (understudy)
2002/2003 Queen of Spades - Tchekalinsky
Queen of Spades - Hermann (understudy)
Turn of the Screw - Prologue/Quint
Jenůfa - Lača (understudy)
A Masked Ball - Magistrate & Gustavo (understudy)
Madama Butterfly - Pinkerton (understudy)
2001/2002 Il tabarro/Cavalleria rusticana - Peddlar (chorus) & Tinca (understudy)
Giulio Cesare in Egitto - Curio
Salome - Fourth Jew
Il Viaggio a Reims - Gelsomino
Boris Godunov - Simpleton (understudy)
Posted by Kiersten Hay / in In Memory / comments (0) / permalink
Posted by Kiersten Hay / in Barber of Seville / comments (0) / permalink
By Nikita Gourski
Spring isn't the only thing brightening up the days in Toronto! We're listing the top 12 reasons you can't miss seeing our production of The Barber of Seville from the brilliant and hilarious minds of the Els Comediants production team!
Featuring one of the most recognizable scores in the entire operatic repertoire, Gioachino Rossini's The Barber of Seville has become the most performed opera worldwide. You can learn more about this classic comic masterpiece through our Listening Guide.
Rossini was born in 1792 in Pesaro, a seaport town on the Adriatic coast. Growing up with musician parents—his mother a soprano; his father a horn and trumpet player—he was immersed from a young age in the bustling, often chaotic world of Italian opera houses, in which a new work might be composed, rehearsed, and performed within the span of only a few weeks. By his early teens he was already a polished musician, studying at the conservatory in Bologna, and composing original works, including opera.
By age 20, Rossini was recognized internationally as a major talent, with two important hits in the same year, one comic (The Italian Girl in Algiers), one serious (Tancredi). There was an exuberant richness, an endless inventiveness in Rossini’s melodies and vocal writing that soon made him the most celebrated, bankable, and popular composer in the world.
Yet most remarkably, at the very height of his powers, Rossini went into retirement. He had his reasons, of course: he was exhausted from writing some 40 operas in 19 years; he was depressed by his mother’s recent death; he had physical problems; there were signs of change coming both politically and within the art form that he might not have cared to entertain or adjust his style to suit. Yet even with all these explanations, the totality of Rossini’s departure from the opera world astonishes. He lived for another 40 years or so but never wrote another opera—a fallow period longer than Mozart’s lifespan.
Though Rossini wrote operas of all kinds, he is primarily known today for his mastery of opera buffa, or comic opera, an immensely popular genre that was geared to all social classes (as opposed to the aristocracy) with fast-paced action, comic situations, and hummable tunes. Bel canto means “beautiful singing” and denotes the highly exhibitionist, virtuosic singing style practiced at the time (both in serious and comic works). While bel canto operas followed fairly fixed structures and conventions—detractors sometimes label them “mechanical” and “formulaic” —Rossini nonetheless found dramatically compelling, stunningly beautiful, and inventive ways to deploy these formal structures.
Rossini claimed that he composed The Barber of Seville in 13 days, never leaving the house where he was lodging. Given such timelines, composers had to be pragmatic about expediting their work. Self-borrowing, for example, was a standard practice, and Rossini frequently reused material from his back catalogue. Indeed, Barber features passages from five previous Rossini operas. Yet his genius manages to transcend this system of manufacture: “You may say things about Rossini and they may be true regarding the borrowings […] the speed of composition and so forth, but I confess that I cannot help believing The Barber of Seville for abundance of ideas, for verve, [and] for truth of declamation the most beautiful opera buffa in existence,” wrote the great Italian composer Giuseppe Verdi.
Barber is based on a stage play by the French playwright Pierre Beaumarchais (whose Figaro trilogy is a satirical take-down of aristocratic privilege and also includes The Marriage of Figaro and The Guilty Mother). Rossini’s was not the first Barber opera; in fact an earlier version by composer Giovanni Paisiello was considered such a cornerstone of the opera buffa repertoire that Rossini decided to write to the elder artist, assuring him that this new version was not intended as an affront to the original.
On opening night a clique of ardent Paisiello supporters (see #6) bought up entire sections of the theatre, intending to boo the opera vociferously and cause a debacle regardless of what happened on stage. But the performance itself was marred by problems: a guitar string broke in the opening scene; a singer tripped over an errant trapdoor and had to deliver his aria while trying to stop a bleeding nose; a cat dashed onto the stage and got tangled up in the soprano’s skirt. Though opening night was a disaster, the second performance was a great success, and Rossini’s Barber has been in the repertoire ever since.
Rossini’s opera owes much to the Italian tradition of commedia dell’arte, the street theatre of improvised comedy featuring recognizable stock characters—the young lovers, the wily servant, the boastful soldier, the old man scheming to marry a younger woman, etc. The production team pays homage to these theatrical roots with costumes and makeup that reference traditional commedia dell’arte tropes.
Praised for “imaginatively renewing a canonic work” (Opera News) this production by Els Comediants—a Spanish theatre collective that has been creating multi-disciplinary performances for over 40 years—combines carnival and circus traditions along with puppetry, dance, acrobatics, pantomime, and commedia dell’arte practices.
The designs are partly inspired by Picasso’s Cubist aesthetic and the visual language of constructive sculpture, or art that is made by putting things together from different sources. Colourful guitars in Act I are an example, referencing similar constructions by Picasso. Note that many elements of the set design also have a multifunctional, open-ended quality, as objects take on different forms. The giant pink piano, for example, becomes a writing desk, a banquet table, and a boudoir over the course of the opera.
Doors and windows at crooked angles, exaggerated hairdos, and outsized props all contribute to a cartoon-like disruption of scale and proportion. The semi-transparent fabric walls allow for shadow play and effects that mimic cinematic cutaways and montage, notably during the famous “Largo al factotum” aria in which Figaro details his many tasks and responsibilities while we simultaneously witness silhouetted figures performing those errands.
From an overture heard in countless movies, cartoons, and advertisements, to the most famous “entrance aria” in all of opera, to the exhilarating crescendo of “La calunnia” to the sparkling, classic beauty of “Una voce poco fa,” Rossini’s score is a veritable hit parade. You can hear guided samples in our Listening Guide.
To find out more about our upcoming production of The Barber of Seville, click here.
Photo Credit: A scene from the Canadian Opera Company/Opéra National de Bordeaux (ONB)/Houston Grand Opera co-production of The Barber of Seville, 2015, Canadian Opera Company. Photo: Michael Cooper.
Sara Fulgoni in the COC production of Bluebeard's Castle. Photo: Michael Cooper © 2001