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Manitoba Opera.

Manitoba Opera closed its 18/19 season with Rossini's two-act opera buffa The Barber of Seville staged by Montreal's Alain Gauthier, featuring the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra led with finesse by Tyrone Paterson.

The highly stylized Art-Deco flavoured set, originally designed by Ken MacDonald for Pacific Opera Victoria, evokes the swoops and angles of Spanish surrealist painter Salvador Dali, instilling a dreamlike atmosphere heightened further by Winnipeg lighting designer Bill Williams' kaleidoscopic shifts of pastel hues. All costumes were designed by Dana Osborne, also for POV

The decision to transplant the action to early 20th century Seville admittedly showed the piece to be more than a litde plot-shy, relying instead on a stable of colourful characters to bring its narrative to life. Fortunately, the production boasted five strong principals, including internationally-acclaimed Canadian lyric baritone Elliot Madore making a dazzling company debut as the tall, dark and strapping barber--oozing charm and exuding an ironclad conviction with his every entrance that had Apr. 6th's opening night crowd firmly in the palm of his well-manicured hand.

The Toronto-born dynamo nearly stopped the show with the iconic aria "Largo al factotum," his booming vocals receiving prolonged applause with cries of bravo for his larger-than-life performance.

Canadian mezzo-soprano Andrea Hill (MO debut) instilled Rosina with nuanced, flesh-and-blood layers--her increasing exasperation at being locked away by her lecherous guardian, Dr. Bartolo, was palpable. As a "mezzo Rosina," Hill's opening camtina, "Una voce poca fa," immediately displayed her rich palette of tonal colours, including a shimmering upper register and warmly burnished tones in her lower range. It also provided the first taste of her sparkling coloratura, as she nimbly scaled vocal heights with quicksilver runs.

Like Madore, Hill is also a crackerjack actor with flawless comic timing--literally--as she furiously plucked flower petals in rhythm with her vocal runs, or mugging and mocking Bartolo during the Act II 'lesson scene.'

American tenor Andrew Owens (MO debut) as Count Almaviva had a tough act to follow with his own opening cavatina, "Ecco, ridente in cielo." Nevertheless, despite a few minor intonation and balance issues that quickly settled, Owen's supple, true Rossini leggero tenor proved its expressive best during "Se il mio nome saper voi bramate," sung with elegant grace.

American baritone Steven Condy (MO debut) created an imperious Bartolo, letting down his hair while warbling in falsetto during Rosina's singing lesson that also saw Owens' mop-topped "Don Alonso" channeling the wacky spirit of Victor Borge, complete with 'air harpsichord' effects.

Condy's "A un dottor della mia sorte" ended with crisply executed patter, demonstrating this versatile singing-actor's prowess at walking a razor's edge between belly-laugh hilarity and darkly threatening power.

Canadian bass-baritone Giles Tomkins likewise brought dramatic intensity to his role as Rosina's vocal tutor and Bartolo's slimy sidekick, Don Basilio. His performance of the "slander" aria, "La calunnia," with its famous long crescendo was a highlight.

Special mention must be made of Winnipeg soprano Andrea Lett who threw herself into her role as a whiskey-swilling, cigarette-puffing Berta. Her heart-wrenching Act II aria "II vecchiotto cerca moglie" in which she reveals her fear of growing old without love became the entire opera's sober second thought, sung with artful compassion.

Gauthier wisely allowed his cast to venture off-leash as the evening progressed (albeit a trifle "park 'n' bark" at times) inspiring frequent howls of laughter from the crowd.

A recurring visual leitmotif of umbrellas, held aloft and twirled at strategic points by the Manitoba Opera Chorus (prepared by Tadeusz Biernacki), provided a fascinating counterpoint to the music, creating pure magic in Act I when the policemen's 'bayonets' suddenly morphed into brollies. However, the stage business was sometimes overly fussy, pulling focus from the leads who were also gamely navigating their own raingear.

Several of the scenes involving extended recitatives could have been tightened to keep things moving along. Still, a Barber delivered with such palpable joy and gusto makes one long for one's own well-coiffed Figaro, able to fix all of life's woes with a swish of his wrist and devil-may-care gleam in his all-knowing eye.--Holly Harris

Caption: Steven Condy (Dr. Bartolo) and Giles Tomkins (Basilio) in Manitoba Opera's The Barber of Seville

Caption: (l-r) Mikaela Bennett (Maria), Linedy Genao (Rosalia) and Addie Morales (Francisca) in Lyric Opera of Chicago's West Side Story
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Title Annotation:WINNIPEG
Author:Harris, Holly
Publication:Opera Canada
Geographic Code:1CMAN
Date:Jun 22, 2019
Words:712
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