09 November 2014
The Comedian of Montréal
Second time around (for me) for a production of The Barber of Seville by the Opéra de Montréal. Yesterday afternoon, as I waited for the clock to advance to departure time, I tweeted my anticipatory musings: how would it be different from the last time I saw it? The Opéra de Montréal answered that tweet with the star, Étienne Dupuis, who would presumably make all the difference. They weren’t wrong, but that wasn’t the whole story, either.
Let me take pains to point out that I am not an expert in opera or any kind of music, so what you’re getting is the uninformed ramblings of someone who just goes to enjoy the show and the music without necessarily understanding what would make it brilliant or not for said experts. “I don’t know music, I just know what I like.”
If I got a smile from the afternoon tweet, it broadened as I drew the connection between the visual representation of the production and the Movember men’s health fundraising efforts. Intentional, it seems, which is a lovely development. The little video clips projected in the Salle Wilfrid Pelletier also showed those involved in the production with their moustaches or holding little moustaches in fron of themselves. The smile morphed into a beam when I got close to the doors and saw the effort to decorate the entry in barbershop colours with the Movember moustache on the doors. Nice play.
Something this particular opera does for me is evoke some childhood memories. I am familiar with the whole of the overture thanks to The Rabbit of Seville, starring Bugs Bunny. As the music plays for such a long time before the curtain rises, my mind wanders through all of the images and lyric adaptations. “Come into my shop. Let me cut your mop. Who’s next? You’re next.” The application and massaging of various tonics into Elmer Fudd’s head, producing wild growth to be mowed and shaved off, racing upward on the side-by-side barber chairs. It all has little to do with the plot of the opera, but everything to do with making the music a part of my childhood and probably yours, too.
Back to the real thing from last night. The set looked highly familiar, like I saw it six years ago when I saw this opera here for the first time. In fact, looking for images online, I found a current production image of the exterior of the house and a previous production image of the interior — I think the only thing that changed in the interior was the recovering of some pieces of furniture. This is not a criticism, however, as the set worked very well as a backdrop to the performances (that’s what it’s for, no?) and shouldn’t we all be in favour of reusing what works well?
Things started changing with the entrance of Etienne Dupuis as Figaro, just as the afternoon response to my tweet would have it. He came in through the audience and leapt up on the stage, taking a moment to invite applause, which he got. If his voice is a beautiful baritone, his acting was comic genius. Everything well-timed and played for laughs, with no small amount of cheekiness and plenty of fun. I think one of my favourite moments, bringing me right back to the Bugs Bunny experiences, was when he inserted himself into a little twirl of dance between Bartolo and Rosina, liberating Rosina to go to her beloved and setting himself up to be the recipient of Bartolo’s series of kisses up his arm. Classic Looney Tunes!
Dupuis also rocks a mean moustache for Movember, I must say. (There are not nearly enough photos of him on the Barihunks blog.)
There were a few other elements I would like to highlight as brilliant and/or hilarious. The brilliance of the representation of slander as creepy, balloon-headed creatures multiplying as they spread across the stage was fabulous. A little fog makes the moment more surreal as the plot to undermine Count Almaviva is described to a very receptive Bartolo. You can see an extremely brief view of the creatures at 1:26 in the photomontage video above. A comic moment that drew a laugh each time it repeated was the sound that emerged from the piano as Don Alonso (Almaviva in disguise) accompanies Rosina in her music lesson: not piano at all, but the full orchestra, with an emphasis on the strings and the flutes. You will also see in the photomontage stills of the many dance numbers, all played for their comedy and well-timed with the music.
We had a sneak preview of a part of the grand finale in Act I when a single piece of glittery confetti floated down from above. The finale itself, however, was not entirely given away, as wave after wave of the stuff came down, followed by balloons, really underscoring that this was the wrap-up number.
In all, these things I have highlighted were great additions to an opera I love to listen to. I have a certain weakness for the light and happy tunes that seem to come best from Italian operas, and for the lovely sections sung in parallel as duets or more. Beyond the familiarity of the music from my youth, it is happy and very catchy music to listen to.
Something else to note that amused me to no end. Behind me were seated a loud curmudgeon and his long-suffering friend. The curmudgeon complained before the opera and during the intermission that the Montréal audience was ignorant. I, of course, have already disclosed my own failings as a music or opera expert, but I embrace that and reject the idea that the opera is only for the well-instructed. If I find beauty in it, should I not enjoy it? I will give him one point, though: he decried the horrible propensity of the audience to give a standing ovation for anything whatsoever, demonstrating by poking his friend and complaining that even that would earn a standing “o” in Montréal. In my own defence, I have to say that I would have waited for some of the more consequential performers to arrive for their bows before standing up were it not for the fact that the people in front of me standing were already obstructing my view and would have obscured the arrival of my choices. So up I got with almost everyone else (didn’t turn around to see if the curmudgeon or his friend had risen), when the first of the chorus came forward to bow.
A bit more well-deserved praise for the Opéra de Montréal, too, for its use of social media. Responded to on Twitter, sometimes retweeted, was one element. Another was seeing on Facebook in the afternoon that they have a mobile app that you can use to register yourself for a possible seating upgrade or other bonus for the performance. Brilliant! This is the kind of use of social media that rewards the exchanges with the audience and capitalizes on the interaction.
Opera 2.0 indeed.