Slapstick done right: Burnaby Lyric Opera's Barber
The Barber of Seville is definitely a comedy of its age - making fun of the relationships between the various classes, and how a simple barber is able to outwit the nobility through intelligence and wit. Making this comedy relevant to the modern age always presents a challenge, as can making the humour as funny today as it was in Rossini's time; the difficult tasks were met incredibly well by Burnaby Lyric Opera's recent production.
Rather than trying to make a hyper-realistic story, this production is very much reminiscent of the opera buffa tradition: When Figaro needs a guitar, a hand simply juts out from the wings with a guitar in hand, then promptly collects it when he's done. The show is full of hilarious slapstick comedy, amazing comic acting, and is an absolute comedic tour de force, which had the audience howling with laughter throughout.
Tenor Thomas Lamont in the role of Count Almaviva was brilliant, his voice clear and strong, with coloratura that was tasteful, and very well executed. His drunken soldier, and nasal voice instructor were incredibly funny, and his comedic moments were spot on.
Michael MacKinnon as Dr. Bartolo had a difficult job. With a booming, commanding voice, and huge stage presence, making him the butt of everyone's jokes was a great challenge, but MacKinnon executed it amazingly, turning Bartolo into a long-suffering buffoon, constantly boiling over with indignant rage, which was shamelessly exploited by the other actors to great effect.
The highlight of the evening was Jason Cook as Figaro. His cocksure swagger brought the character to life, and I couldn't stop watching him, even in moments he wasn't singing. His characterization was perfect, and his voice was rich and resonant. Every time he was on stage, he brought amazing depth and comic brilliance to Figaro, which makes the audience really understand why everyone in Seville is asking him to help them with their problems. His portrayal of Figaro is the best I've seen, and was so funny that my sides hurt in nearly every scene. I hope this becomes a staple character in his repertoire.
The part of Rosina was played by soprano Tamar Simon. As a soprano in a role traditionally sung by mezzos, a lot of the coloratura was done differently than written to suit a soprano voice; however, it wasn't well executed, and didn't show off her voice.
Mezzo-soprano Lauren Solomon as Berta was spritely and cheerful as the maid, and her shrieks of terror from the constant crises in the household were sincere and funny.
Brandon Thornhill as the music teacher Don Basilio was spectacular vocally - his voice was resonant and robust, and playing the straight man in such an ebullient comedy is difficult, but he played it well, struggling between loyalty to Bartolo and Almaviva's heavy purse.
Director Adam Da Ros didn't waste a single opportunity to add more funny moments to the staging. From a cane/barber's strop duel, to the maids beating Bartolo with pillows, to Berta chasing a manservant around the house with a feather duster, every scene was energetic, ridiculous, and a joy to watch.