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Il Signor Bruschino

by Heather Leviston

Lyric Opera has continued to fill its goals of innovation and opportunity with a laugh-out-loud production of Rossini’s Il Signor Bruschino at Chapel Off Chapel, the second of its three-opera season. In this case, opportunity is not offered just to local talented singers, but also to patrons, who were able to hear an unjustly neglected work performed by a uniformly strong cast.

A product of Rossini’s 19 year-old genius, Il Signor Bruschino is the final of his four one-act farces written between 1810 and 1813. The subject matter follows opera buffa conventions of mistaken identity, true love thwarted by parental ambition, general confusion and a happy ending.

Directed by Lara Kerestes under the expert mentorship of Suzanne Chaundy, the action has been moved to a more contemporary setting with the hero and heroine the offspring rival Italian fashion houses. This has given costume designer Lucy Wilkins an opportunity to create some striking outfits. As Mariana, secretary to Gaudenzio’s domain, Genevieve Dickson would have looked at home in the exclusive world of Women in Black. Wilkins’ flamboyant use of colour that had injected such vivid life into Lyric Opera’s Pygmalion, once again spiced up the comedic dimensions of Rossini’s opera.

As Gaudenzio’s daughter, Sofia, Rebecca Rashleigh wore a bright pink confection that matched the dramatic and musical persona of a young woman determined to marry her beloved Florville. Rashleigh used her attractive, well-controlled soprano to excellent effect, negotiating florid passages and high notes with such assurance that they became a tool for accentuating the comic elements of her role.

A bright green suit and large red handkerchief added to the silliness of Signor Bruschino Senior’s plight. As the harassed Media mogul father of Sofia’s undesirable betrothed, Bruce Raggat was responsible for much of the hilarity, carrying off the farcical situation brilliantly when confronted with Florville’s patently absurd claim to be his son. Raggat’s Gilbert and Sullivan experience was evident in the patter songs, his diction clear and his baritone unforced and flexible. His energy seemed inexhaustible in a production that was seldom still.

Even the Overture, with its signature device of violin bows tapping on the music stands, was accompanied by energetic mimed scenes that established various relationships and culminated in Bruschino Snr chasing off his inebriated son in exasperated fury.

In fact, the action began before the start of the opera with Raphael Wong in the role of innkeeper Filiberto offering drinks to members of the audience as they were seated. This was consistent with a set design and a production style that enabled the singers to have close contact with members of the audience, making direct eye contact, or even shaking a hand or two, at strategic times. Considerable directorial ingenuity was used to make full use of an acting space that was almost in the round.

A fine baritone, Raphael Wong has appeared in a number of productions with Lyric Opera as well as other companies and never fails to impress with his smooth vocal production and pleasing tone.

Shanul Sharma’s Florville also sought to engage the sympathy of the audience directly and brought an entertaining sense of the ridiculous to his melodramatic pleadings. Sharma’s distinctive tenor voice with its extraordinary upper extension and flexibility was very well suited to the demands of Rossini’s more florid passages. He made an appealingly sensitive lover whom you couldn’t help but cheer on no matter how outrageous his claims.

Bass baritone Matt Thomas was generally persuasive as Gaudenzia, his rich, resonant middle voice especially impressive in both ensembles and arias. The fathers’ duet and the following trio were among the highlights.

In the less central roles, Genevieve Dickson was a warm and appealing Mariana, Bernie Leon a creditable police commissioner on the take, and Cameron Sibly made a convincing drunk as Bruschino Jnr. All sang well and incorporated clearly delineated character detail into their performances.

Artistic Director and conductor, Pat Miller, has done a fine job once again. Notable performances came from the wind section with Jasper Ly playing the lovely cor anglais obbligato from memory as part of the stage action for Sofia’s aria, so beautifully sung by Rashleigh. Although a grand piano rather than a harpsichord was used for the recitatives, this choice was in keeping with the more modern setting (remember the days when David Jones upped the ambiance with a grand piano?) and featured some accomplished playing by Jane Matheson.

This hugely entertaining seventy-five minutes of Rossini fun deserves full houses. It is sung in English that you can actually understand without the use of surtitles and the music just fizzes along with frequent reminders of The Barber of Seville.

Lyric Opera’s production of Il Signor Bruschino deserves full houses. Do yourself a favour and support your local artists by grabbing this opportunity to enjoy Rossini’s comic delight.

The picture is by  Kris Washusen.

This production is at Chapel off Chapel until June 12. 

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