Monday, April 18, 2011

Mark of a Good Opera? It Passes the "Pub and Pal" Test!!

“Director, Emilio Fina, accomplished an artistic and logistic coup in Opera Kitchener production of the Barber of Seville at the River Run Centre in Guelph last night...”
When I go to the opera, I don’t go as a skeptic anymore; I’m converted - I’ve been, I saw and - yes, I was conquered.  I now love opera. I chalked up my latest adventure with Opera Kitchener’s rollicking “Barber of Seville” at the River Run Centre in Guelph last night – yessss, the “Figaro” opera!  It was really important for me that my date enjoyed the evening too.  He’d never been to the opera in all of his considerable years and I dreaded the sarcastic “I told you so” sneer if he did not like it. 
Gerry’s a ‘pub and tweed’ variety Englishman.  He enjoys a good laugh, a good pastie and good ale with his mates – and not necessarily in that order.  Habits, custom and creature comforts are hugely important to Gerry.  He was anxious about the dress code beforehand but I assured him that it wasn’t formal – it was Guelph after all, not the Met for heaven’s sakes!   He asked me what time we HAD to get there... I told him, and gave no indication that I could tell he would have happily begged off given the slightest opportunity.  I must confess to using psychology on Gerry – I didn’t validate any of his subtly understated anxieties and so, overrode his unstated objection to the idea as a concept.   I managed the not inconsiderable task of getting him there; with an open mind, but for his attitude conversion, I let the pros take over!  What follows is an account of how Gerry’s operatic resistance met its Waterloo – in Guelph...
We met in the lobby.  I drove from my house in Acton and Gerry walked from his in Guelph. “What a gorgeous day!” he said, agreeably enough as soon as he caught sight of me.  I caught his hand and ushered him, with a smile and a nod, past the friendly volunteer greeter, a little lady named Vera, I think, and into the “pub.” Ok, it’s not an actual pub but a rye and ginger in hand and a little table with a view of the riverside park beside us produced a very comfortable vibe.  We thus loitered, languidly looking at the incoming patrons file in then disperse towards their various theatre entrances until we’d “drunk our drinks” as the English say and went in to find our seats.  Gerry looked not anxious!
Conductor, William Shookoff, was the first   pro to go to work on Gerry; like a masseuse, he loosened him up and built his anticipation by leading the orchestra in the infectious, iconic opera overture that is comforting in its absolutely, universal familiarity.  By the time the curtain went up, Gerry sat docile and bemused, the Berlin Wall of his opposition swaying in time with William’s baton. 
What followed was the systematic construction of a brand new opera convert after each stage of which I shouted a climatic “yes, yes, yes!!”
We both loved the “Barber.” Gerry’s first time to the opera was my first time seeing this Rossini production.  The thing that’s most surprising for first-timers, we found, was how timeless and appealing opera still is today.  That’s because the characters are such simple archetypes: the young lover, the fair maiden, the scheming villain, the comically scornful commoner. The themes are perennial: love, sex, greed and revenge, ensuring, always, a little something for everyone and a culminating catharsis for all.  In Fina’s production we were quite in awe of the acting which we thought would be secondary to the singing.  Gerry told me he would have known what was going on, even without the English surtitles, merely by the expressivity of the voices and the facial expressions.

Particularly charming about the performances was the fact that the lovers, Count

 Almaviva, played by Fina, himself and Rosina, played by Jennifer Elisabetta Fina

are, of course, real life husband and wife.  Their beautiful arias were convincing and poignant.   Not surprisingly though, for my affable Brit date, Gerry was completely won over by the comic portions of the opera.  William Lewans as Doctor Bartolo was hysterical in his unkempt, eye-rolling, blustering and scheming and kept us laughing throughout as did the energetic and talented Andrew Tam as Fiorello while Karen Bojti, playing Berta, thrilled us both with her impressive voice and stage presence.
I am so happy and excited to discover this first class company in my own backyard!  Next fall they will be performing Mozart’s “The Magic Flute” and yes, I will be back, with my pub and  tweed and newly opera-philic date!
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