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Glendon’s Guillaume Bernardi Directs COC’s Marriage of Figaro

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The Canadian Opera Company’s opening production of this highly emotional season is Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro directed by the very versatile Guillaume Bernardi (right), acclaimed director of theatre, opera, dance, as well as scholar and professor in Glendon’s Drama Studies Program.

Bernardi directed the same work at the Frankfurt Opera in March of 2007 to general critical acclaim. “After the opening night [at Frankfurt], I received a phone call from the COC”, said Bernardi, “inviting me to bring the production to Toronto this fall. It was an offer I was delighted to accept.” Since then, the much-loved and highly-respected Bradshaw has passed away, making this a particularly poignant start to the season.

Bernardi is no stranger to directing opera. His credits include Handel’s Belshazzar and Saul, both for Théâtre Royal de la Monnaie (Brussels); Dal male il bene for the Innsbruck Early Music Festival; and La conversione di Clodoveo – a staged oratorio by Caldara. In 2006, he was invited by the Frankfurt Opera to direct Through Roses, a moving piece about a violinist trying to survive his memories of the Holocaust. Later that year, he directed Molière’s Georges Dandin for the Théâtre français de Toronto to rave reviews. He has also choreographed Bas-reliefs, performed last year in Montreal by dancer Marie-Josée Chartier.

“The Marriage of Figaro is a highly complex piece”, explained Bernardi. “It is a comedy, but one with a great deal of emotional depth, pathos and social comment.” Bernardi’s dual Italian and French background provides him with a deep understanding of Lorenzo Da Ponte’s brilliant libretto based on Beaumarchais’ controversial 1784 play, La folle journée, ou le Mariage de Figaro.

(l-r) Donato DiStefano as Doctor Bartolo, Ying Huang as Susanna, Russell Braun as Count Almaviva, Jessica Muirhead as Countess Almaviva, Megan Latham as Marcellina, and Robert Gleadow as Figaro in the Canadian Opera Company's 2007 production of The Marriage of Figaro, directed by Guillaume Bernardi. Photo: Michael Cooper

Bernardi confirmed that while the Hummingbird Centre, the previous home of the COC, did not work for intimate operas such as the current production, the new opera house, Bradshaw’s legacy, offers an ideal venue for them. “The Marriage of Figaro is a story focused on relationships at various stages”, added Bernardi. “It is an astute observation of youthful infatuation, as demonstrated by the teenage Cherubino, young love between Figaro and his bride, Susanna, and a marriage of several years between the Count and the Countess”. The story also casts a sharp, critical eye on the society of the time, the privileges of the aristocracy and the dependence of the servants on the good intentions of their masters.

Bernardi’s concept in the current COC production is a minimalist staging, with relatively few but elegant props that succeed admirably in recreating the era and setting of the play. The final garden scene among the pines is particularly evocative and beautiful. Bernardi confirmed that for him this opera needs no “updating” to the present: its themes and relationships continue to be universal and fresh. He is deeply interested in the development of the characters, in particular of the Countess, whose ability to pardon her husband’s philandering and jealousy result in one of the most moving scenes in the world of opera.

(l-r) Ying Huang as Susanna, Sandra Piques Eddy as Cherubino, and Jessica Muirhead as Countess Almaviva in the Canadian Opera Company's 2007 production of Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro, directed by Guillaume Bernardi. Photo: Michael Cooper

Bernardi has been teaching at Glendon for three years and has worked on numerous student productions, among them Garcia Lorca’s Yerma and Molière’s Sganarelle. “I am passionate about working with students, receiving their fresh ideas and innovations”, said Bernardi. “And Drama Studies provide an excellent grounding for many skills, both inside and outside the theatre. My students are comfortable in public speaking. They also have an opportunity to get to know the literature and drama repertory of the past and present – a solid foundation for their liberal arts education. In addition, the bilingual nature of Glendon provides twice as many sources of material and allows us to experience not just two languages, but a multiplicity of cultural insights. It is genuine enrichment.”

Bernardi’s next Glendon project is The Joker of Seville by Derek Walcott with students in 2nd year, to be staged in January. His next project outside the university is the Toronto premiere of Bas-reliefs at DanceWorks, at the end of November 2007.

This article was submitted by Glendon communications officer Marika Kemeny

Published on November 1, 2007