Comic opera, singing sensations bring magic to Featherstone

Mezzo soprano Eve Gigliotti is the female lead in "L'italiana in Algeri."
Photo by Hoebermann Studios

Mezzo soprano Eve Gigliotti is the female lead in "L'italiana in Algeri."

Memorable music, virtuosic voices, passion and pathos — what one expects of a professional opera production. But belly laughs, not so much. Well, this weekend, thanks to Wendy Taucher Dance Opera Theater, the humorous and the sublime are equally represented in a production of Rossini’s “L’italiana in Algeri (The Italian Girl in Algiers),” presented three nights under a tent at the Featherstone Center for the Arts.

Last year, the sell-out production of Puccini’s comic opera “Gianni Schicchi” at the same locale (and with a couple of the same singers) was by many accounts one of the entertainment highlights of the summer. Judging by a glimpse of the cast rehearsing under Ms. Taucher’s direction during the past three weeks, this summer’s selection should be every bit as funny and entertaining — and provide an excellent chance to experience world-class singers perform in a work the director refers to as “good starter opera.”

“This is my favorite comic opera of all time,” said Ms. Taucher. “The finale at the end of Act One is some of the most exciting comic music ever written.”

Ms. Taucher, a veteran director of dance, opera, and theater, has brought in a talented cast of young, yet highly accomplished singers/actors for three performances of Rossini’s comic opera. While the songs will all be sung in the original language, the dialogue in Italian has been replaced by some explanatory narrative (with comedic touches) in English.

“The goal is to help people enjoy the music more,” she said. “It’s helpful if you can know a little more about the characters and what’s going on.”

The two-act opera has also been shortened to one all-encompassing act running approximately an hour and a quarter, and some of the sequencing has been altered. The singers are accompanied by two pianists sharing one piano.

Written in the early 19th century, the opera is a farce featuring an exotic locale, pirates, a kidnaped maiden, wily females, and a buffoonish sultan.

“This opera was a spoof of the Ottoman Empire and the Barbary pirates when it was written,” Ms. Taucher said. The humor has been further heightened with lots of physical comedy. The costumes are fun and colorful, covering many looks and eras — a sultan/pirate, a female genie, a French maid, a white-suited Sicilian grandee, etc.

A few years ago Ms. Taucher directed a scene from “L’italiana in Algeri” with mezzo soprano Eve Gigliotti in the title role. Ever since, she has wanted to exploit Ms. Gigliotti’s talents to their fullest with a full-length production of the opera. In the meantime, the gifted singer has made a splash in the opera world, performing at the Metropolitan Opera, Carnegie Hall, and Avery Fischer Hall in New York and earning acclaim from The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, among others. Critics have praised her singing variously as “sensuous,” “handsome toned,” “rich and resonant,” and “hauntingly beautiful.”

“She’s really hot right now,” said Ms. Taucher, who was thrilled to be able to secure Ms. Gigliotti for the Vineyard production. In rehearsals, the mezzo soprano displayed both a rich and powerful voice and the timing and campy sass and seductiveness of a skilled comedienne.

Before coming to the Island, Ms. Gigliotti was coached in the role by legendary mezzo-soprano Marilyn Horne, who is known for her portrayal of the opera’s heroine.

Branch Fields, who will take on the male lead, was recently described as “a gifted young bass” by The New York Times. He performed with the New York City Opera for six years and has appeared at major venues all over the world. Mr. Fields has also made a name for himself as a musical theater performer. He was nominated for Best Actor in a Musical for both the IRNE Awards and Broadway World/Boston and appeared in “South Pacific” at Lincoln Center. With his handsome looks, deep and resonant bass, and expressive face, he makes a great fit for the arrogant Sultan.

Tenor Glenn Seven Allen is also an emerging star, in musical theater as well as opera, having appeared in numerous roles on Broadway. He was a Helen Hayes Nominee for Best Actor and will soon make his Carnegie Hall debut.

Hallie Silverston, along with numerous opera and theater credits, currently serves as a back-up singer for Florence Henderson in her touring show.

Filling out the cast are Korean born Kyungmook Yum, a New York City Opera veteran; James C. Martin, who has performed at venues such as Carnegie Hall and Washington National Cathedral, and has appeared in musicals all over the country; and Erika Person who has performed with the New York Gilbert & Sullivan Players for 10 seasons and has appeared at Carnegie Hall and the New York City Center

“This is as high a level as you can get in singing, acting, and physical comedy,” said Ms. Taucher of her cast. “They can do it all.”

The narration and the physical comedy help to up the entertainment value of the work considerably, but it’s the passion of the music and the beauty of the Italian language in songs delivered by virtuoso singers that brings the thrill and drama to the opera. And, combined with the bucolic setting of the Featherstone campus, the evening performances are bound to conjure pure magic. With more than a few laughs.

In addition to the performance, Wendy Taucher Dance Opera Theater will award Debbie Brown the 2013 Inspiration Award. Ms. Brown will accept her award on Friday, August 2, at 6 pm.

Wendy Taucher Dance Opera Theater presents “L’italiana Re-Mix: Rossini’s Take on Love, Sex & Disaster,” in English & Italian, condensed on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, August 2, 3, and 4 at 6 pm. Tickets for Friday’s gala with champagne and dinner range from $150-$500. Tickets for the Saturday and Sunday performances range from $30-$100. For more information, call 646-872-7249 or email wendytaucher@gmail.com.