From the multitude of vocal recitals presented through the Free Concert Series to, most recently, the blow-the-roof-off-the-opera-house performance of The Barber of Seville, members of the Canadian Opera Company’s Ensemble Studio have dazzled and delighted us this year with their exceptional skill and artistry. With the conclusion of the COC’s 2014/2015 season, it’s now time for the rest of the world to get a taste of the hotbed of talent that Toronto has been home to for the last nine months.
Tenor Andrew Haji travels to Athens, Greece this week to take part in a thrilling tribute to Greek-Canadian soprano Teresa Stratas on May 28. The Greek National Opera pays tribute to the legendary singer, featuring performances by Andrew and two internationally acclaimed Greek sopranos, Alexia Voulgaridou and Myrtò Papatanasiu. Andrew’s participation in the concert marks the first joint performance between Greek National Opera and the Canadian Opera Company. After a bit of a break, Andrew’s off to the Salzburg Festival’s Young Singers Project for July and August, coming back to Toronto just in time to start La Traviata rehearsals at the COC.
Bass-baritone Gordon Bintner also joins the Young Singers Project, an international benchmark and model for the supporting and nurturing of young vocalists. The curriculum goes beyond musical education and repertoire expansion, to include staged rehearsals, language coaching and Lied interpretation, with master classes led by Salzburg Festival artists that are open to the public. Before meeting up with Andrew in Austria, however, Gordon travels to Dresden, Germany to sing Bill in Bernstein’s A Quiet Place with Ensemble Modern on June 3 and stops in Montreal to sing Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 with the McGill Chamber Orchestra on June 9.
Coming off an acclaimed run as Berta in the COC’s The Barber of Seville, soprano Aviva Fortunata is getting ready to sing a different tune and take on not one, but two of the opera world’s most admired vocal competitions. She’s the sole Canadian at the BBC Cardiff Singer of the World competition. The biennial event takes place from June 14 to 21, when 20 of the finest classical singers at the start of their careers come to the capital of Wales, hoping to win this prestigious singing competition. How does one follow up being chosen to compete in Cardiff Singer of the World? By being one of two Canadians invited to sing at famed world opera competition Operalia, which is being hosted for the first time by the Royal Opera House in London. Founded by Plácido Domingo, Operalia is committed to the discovery and honouring of the best new young singers of today and takes place this year from July 13 to 19. Viva Aviva!
Joining the Ensemble Studio gang gathering on the other side of the pond is baritone Iain MacNeil. He’ll be joining the Centre for Opera Studies in Italy program from June 15 to July 21 in pastoral Sulmona. In addition to individualized, one-on-one voice lessons, coaching sessions, movement classes and dramatic training, and master classes with an internationally renowned faculty of opera training professionals, Iain will be singing Guglielmo in Così fan tutte. Then it’s home to Canada where rumours have it that a motorcycling trip to St. John’s, NL is in the works as well as a possible recital in Brockville, Ont., come mid-August.
For fans wanting to check in on the Ensemble Studio artists over the summer, but are interested in staying closer to home, then Quebec is serving up some heavy operatic action right now!
The Montreal International Musical Competition for Voice runs from May 25 to June 5, and brings together 24 young classical singers from around the world. Only 12 candidates advance to the semi-finals with six vocalists chosen to go on to the finals as well as take part in a special concert on June 3 with the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal conducted by the COC’s own Musical Director Johannes Debus. Among the 24 competitors this year is soprano Karine Boucher.
Karine follows up the vocal competition with a performance of Bruckner’s Mass No. 3 with the Orchestre Métropolitain under the baton of Yannick Nézet-Séguin on July 4 as part of the Festival de Lanaudière in Joliette, Quebec. Then it’s home to Quebec City for some family-based hiking and camping and to learn her wide-ranging repertoire for next season at the COC, which includes La Traviata, The Marriage of Figaro, Carmen and Siegfried.
While in Montreal, Karine may cross paths with Jean-Philippe Fortier-Lazure, who heads to Montreal at the beginning of June for a recital with pianist Francis Perron for the Café Arts Vocal and to receive the Choquette-Symcox Award from Jeunesses Musicales Canada. Then it’s a trip south of the border to the Marlboro Music Festival in Vermont. As part of Marlboro’s annual seven-week season, Jean-Philippe will be immersed in advanced artistic development and intensive, collaborative exploration of chamber music.
Intern coach and pianist Jennifer Szeto is doing her fair share of traveling this summer, dividing her time between Montreal and Calgary, and a few other places in between. When Karine faces the judges at the Montreal International Musical Competition it will be with Jennifer playing by her side. Then it’s off to the Brott Music Festival in Hamilton, Ont., the largest non-profit orchestral music festival in Canada, where Jennifer will coach and play rehearsals for The Barber of Seville being performed in July. That’s all that she can share… for now.
What are recent Ensemble Studio graduates up to this summer? Well, we’ve heard:
Safe travels to all and see you in September!
Photo Credits (top-down): The COC Ensemble Studio. Photo: Chris Hutcheson; Andrew Haji. Photo: Chris Hutcheson; Gordon Bintner. Photo: Chris Hutcheson; Aviva Fortunata. Photo: Chris Hutcheson; Iain MacNeil. Photo: Karen Reeves; Jean-Philippe Fortier-Lazure. Photo: Chris Hutcheson; Karine Boucher. Photo: Chris Hutcheson; Jennifer Szeto. Photo: Karen Reeves.
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If you think you’ve never heard of The Barber of Seville, think again! Rossini’s toe-tapping, humdinger of a score has been used in popular culture since its premiere in 1816. If you’re anywhere close to the Four Seasons Centre until May 22, you might hear a familiar sound echoing through the building—the famous "Largo al factotum" aria, with its legendary “Figaro” refrain. Still not ringing any bells? Sit back, relax, and get ready for your pop culture whirlwind tour through Rossini’s comic masterpiece.
This production of The Barber of Seville, a COC co-production with Opera Australia, Houston Grand Opera and Opéra National de Bordeaux, uses the signature madcap and colourful style of Els Comediants, an artist collective from Spain, whose work we’ve seen before at the COC with their 2011 La Cenerentola. This production’s use of space and scale lends a cartoon-like sensibility, with riotous bursts of colour and humour contributing to the already hilarious opera. The cartoon-inspired style is fitting, as the music of Barber was often first introduced to today’s audiences by that same medium—cartoons. Classic Warner Bros. cartoons, so often seen on Saturday mornings in childhood, featured music from The Barber of Seville in no less than nine different cartoons, a few of which we will highlight below.
Arguably the best-known use of The Barber of Seville, the Bug Bunny short “The Rabbit of Seville” uses the famous Barber overture to score a hilarious battle for dominance between Bugs and Elmer Fudd, while also lampooning opera tropes along the way.
Those eternal frenemies and competitive companions Tom and Jerry also had their turn using "Largo al factotum" for comedy, turning it into a bit of a sing-off situation.
Bugs Bunny actually took inspiration from Rossini twice. In a lesser-known clip, Bugs runs afoul of a singer practicing his own "Largo" for a concert, and gets his revenge by becoming the maestro we all hope never to find in the pit at the Four Seasons Centre.
Although Woody Woodpecker and Bugs Bunny had faded from popularity in the 2000s, The Barber of Seville overture provided the inspiration for another cartoon spokes-animal. Bee, of Honey Nut Cheerios fame, takes his turn as the barber in this cereal commercial set to Rossini’s score.
“Largo al factotum” is one of the best “party arias”—technically challenging, crowd pleasing, and always impressive when pulled off. It’s a baritone’s best weapon on the competition circuit. However, even if it’s just for the men in the real world of operatic casting, a soprano can have her day in the patter spotlight too. Deanna Durbin proved this in the 1948 romantic comedy For the Love of Mary. Show this clip to a soprano in your life, and maybe someday we’ll hear a "Largo" for women—Barbara of Seville, anyone?
These are just a few uses of Rossini’s comic masterpiece in popular culture. Music from The Barber of Seville has also appeared in episodes of Seinfeld, The Simpsons, and had cinematic cameos in Mrs. Doubtfire and Little Rascals, among others. Perhaps the most incongruously, a remix of “Largo al factotum” was prominently featured in the advertising for season five of that dubious documentary and social experiment Jersey Shore. While we can’t be certain, a part of us thinks Rossini, notorious bon vivant, would probably approve.
Come find out for yourself why The Barber of Seville is so iconic, and experience some of the hilarity and virtuosic singing happening at the Canadian Opera Company.
To buy tickets, click here.
Photo credit: (l-r) Alek Shrader as Count Almaviva and Joshua Hopkins as Figaro in the Canadian Opera Company production of The Barber of Seville, 2015. Photo: Michael Cooper
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Sara Fulgoni in the COC production of Bluebeard's Castle. Photo: Michael Cooper © 2001