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When it rains it pours! Accolades for The Barber of Seville come rushing in

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12 Things to Know: The Barber of Seville

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. 

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Artist Basics: Joshua Hopkins

Canadian baritone Joshua Hopkins has captured the attention of critics worldwide for both his voice and dramatic ability. He has performed across North America and Europe to captivated audiences, and will soon be singing on the Four Seasons Centre stage in our upcoming production of The Barber of Seville!

What he’s doing with us: Josh will be performing the iconic role of Figaro in Els Comediants' hilarious production of Rossini's The Barber of Seville with us this spring. He has previously sung as the world's most famous barber with both Vancouver Opera and Lyric Opera of Kansas City, to much critical acclaim! 

Where you might have seen him: So far this season Josh has made his Lyric Opera of Chicago debut as Tadeusz in The Passenger, sung as Count Almaviva in Le nozze di Figaro with Glyndebourne Festival, Dallas Opera and with the Gulbenkian Foundation in Lisbon. In concert, he has performed with Marin Alsop and the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra as Dr. Pangloss in Bernstein’s Candide and has appeared in recital with the Collaborative Arts Institute of Chicago.

Past seasons include performances as Marcello in a new production of La Bohème at the COC and as Schaunard in a revival of the popular Franco Zeffirelli production of the same opera at Metropolitan Opera. In the 2013/2014 season Josh made international debuts at Oper Frankfurt as Guglielmo in Così fan tutte and at Washington National Opera as Papageno in The Magic Flute. Other roles that season included a return to Glyndebourne as Argante in Handel’s Rinaldo.

Joshua Hopkins as Figaro in Lyric Opera of Kansas City's production of Il barbiere di Siviglia, 2012


Future seasons will see the baritone’s return to Lyric Opera of Chicago, Washington National Opera, Santa Fe Opera, and Houston Grand Opera.

What the critics have said:

"…one element of the endeavour transcends even this overall consistent standard – the quality and lithe exuberance of baritone Joshua Hopkins’ Figaro. Vancouver audiences have enjoyed Hopkins as a lieder singer who combines an innately appealing instrument with musical sensitivity and precision. Here he delivers a stunning interpretation of Figaro, rooted in his physical sense of the character. He has the tone, the timing, and the confidence to make it appear effortless fun; from quicksilver recitatives to solo work and ensembles, Hopkins is the focus of the production. And he couldn’t be better.”
-The Vancouver Sun (reviewing the Vancouver Opera production of Il barbiere di Siviglia)

"As for the muckraking Figaro, Hopkins played him as a delightfully flamboyant and unapologetically pompous charmer, with a physical presence approximating something between Will Ferrell and Liberace.  His entrance had him madly cutting off mullets, dying hair, and powdering noses with hilarious speed—all the while nailing the vocal theatrics of the “Largo al factotum” aria."
-The Georgia Straight (reviewing the Vancouver Opera production of Il barbiere di Siviglia)

"Joshua Hopkins was perfect – conversational and believable – as the lovestruck painter Marcello…"
-The Globe and Mail (reviewing the Canadian Opera Company production of La Bohème)

"To my ears, particularly impressive was the warm and gorgeous baritone of Joshua Hopkins, who is now deservedly at the Met."
-La Scena Musicale (reviewing the Canadian Opera Company production of La Bohème)

"The versatile Canadian baritone Joshua Hopkins is a standout Schaunard, singing with robust sound and flair."
-The New York Times (reviewing the The Metropolitan Opera production of La Bohème)

See Joshua Hopkins as Figaro in our upcoming production of The Barber of Seville. For more information and to buy tickets, visit here

You can also follow Josh on Twitter at @barihopkins

Photo credit: Dario Acosta

Posted by Kiersten Hay / in Barber of Seville / comments (0) / permalink

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Sara Fulgoni in the COC production of Bluebeard's Castle. Photo: Michael Cooper © 2001



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