York professor directs the Canadian Opera Company’s Marriage of Figaro

The Canadian Opera Company’s opening production of the season was Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro directed by Professor Guillaume Bernardi, an accomplished director of theatre, opera and dance as well as a scholar and coordinator of Glendon’s Drama Studies Program.

Bernardi directed the same work at the Frankfurt Opera in March of 2007 and received 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.”

Right: Guillaume Bernardi

Bernardi is no stranger to directing opera. His credits include Handel’s Belshazzar and Saul, both for Théâtre Royal de la Monnaie in Brussels; Dal male il bene for the Innsbruck Early Music Festival in Austria; and La conversione di Clodoveo – a staged oratorio by Antonio Caldara at Festival Montréal Baroque. 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.  

Left: The wedding scene from the COC’s recent production of the Marriage of Figaro. Photo by Michael Cooper.

Bernardi said 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, legacy of the COC’s late general director Richard Bradshaw, 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.

Right: Another scene from the Marriage of Figaro. Photo by 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 second 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 this month.

Story submitted to YFile by Glendon communications officer Marika Kemeny.