‘Barber of Seville’ at Featherstone combines comedy and music

— Randi Baird

We could all use a little levity these days, and thanks to Wendy Taucher Dance Theater Opera, “The Barber of Seville,” hailed as one of the greatest masterpieces of comedy within music, is coming to the Featherstone Center for the Arts.

The abbreviated, enhanced version of the famous Rossini opera (with commentary in English) will star imported virtuoso singers who have appeared with the New York City Opera, the Metropolitan Opera, and at other renowned venues throughout the world.

For those who have not been fortunate enough to catch one of Ms. Taucher’s previous productions, the experience is not what operaphobes might expect. She selects comedic operas and amps up the entertainment quotient, without sacrificing any of the story or beloved music.

For her fifth Vineyard outing, the choreographer/director has trimmed the opera down to a manageable 90 minutes, added a narrator to keep the audience on top of the action (and inject some additional humor), and maximized the production’s accessibility with some brilliant staging and great comedic performances from her talented cast.

A recent rehearsal provided a glimpse of what audiences will be treated to this Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. There was lots of mugging, coquetting, strutting, and even a bit of silly dancing, all adding to the overall fun of the piece that has been described as “the opera buffa of all opere buffe.”

Physical comedy requires impeccable timing, and Ms. Taucher’s hand-selected cast manages to pull off the feat, all the while raising goosebumps with their thrilling voices. “One of the tricks is finding singers you like who can act,” Ms. Taucher said. As always, she’s managed to cast highly accomplished singers who clearly have fun with the opera’s often demanding roles. Don’t get the wrong idea, however. The members of the cast are all first and foremost professional singers, and their voices are outstanding. The true thrill of watching any talented troupe perform opera is the levels of emotion that can be evoked through music.

“It’s one of the few pieces in the repertory that demands everything,” said actor Justin Ryan, who has to tackle four different personas as the Count and his three aliases.

“One of the things that makes ‘Barber’ accessible is that the music is so damned hard, but this cast makes it look so easy,” Ms. Taucher said.

Mezzo-soprano Erika Person, who is returning to the Vineyard in the role of the maid, added, “In the opera business we joke that this is one of the operas where you want to be paid by the note.”

The music from “The Barber of Seville” is some of the most recognizable in all of opera. “This opera, if it can be said of any opera, is ubiquitous,” Mr. Ryan said. “So many tunes have been used in so many contexts.” Music from the opera has been featured in everything from films to TV commercials, to cartoons.

Music director Ed Bak commented on the energy of the score, saying, “The music is light, sparkling, effervescent. It plays with a level of speed and dynamics. You get a visceral response.”

“The Barber of Seville” cast brings the return of Mr. Ryan and Michelle Trovato, starring as Figaro and Rosina. Both enjoy stellar national careers. Mr. Ryan was recently featured with the newly revived New York City Opera, playing Edward Hopper in “Hopper.” Ms. Trovato’s luscious soprano, combined with her inimitable comic timing, has won an Island fan base. Also returning to the Vineyard this year is Metropolitan Opera soloist bass Stefan Szakafarowsky. Ms. Taucher notes that she was able to entice the acclaimed bass to the Island with the temptation of Vineyard fishing. Every morning of the cast’s two-week Island rehearsal, Mr. Szafarowsky has ventured out with fishing gear and headlamp in an effort to provide dinner for the cast and crew.

The cast also includes actor Donavan Dietz, who will provide lighthearted nonsinging narration in English. Music director Ed Bak has performed variously with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Cleveland Orchestra, and the Chicago Symphony.

Ms. Taucher has a talent for taking material and without altering the plot or music at all, making her shows very audience friendly. “The intent is not to bastardize the material. We sing in the original language,” she said. “One of the advantages is that they all know the music already.”

The cast members have all appeared in productions of “The Barber of Seville” with various opera companies around the globe. They unanimously agree that it’s one of their favorites, albeit very challenging.

The cast are also all in agreement in their praise of Ms. Taucher. “Wendy has a definite style that is quite different from the rest of the work I’ve done,” Ms. Person said. “What I love is that she is so specific. She’s very visual, because she’s a choreographer. The stage pictures in a way that is unique in my experience. It’s not just about making nice pictures on stage. You have to make sense of what is happening.”

“I think we’re like a blank canvas and Wendy is the painter,” Mr. Szakafarowsky said. “She’s painting us into the canvas, putting us here and there.”

Ms. Trovato uses a similar analogy: “What Wendy is really good at is seeing the strengths of a performer and capitalizing on that; taking what the singer already does well and making it stronger. It’s kind of like we’re clay and she’s modeling us. She shapes what’s already there.”

Judging from her previous outings and the sneak peek of this year’s offering, what Ms. Taucher has created is a true tour de force that is bound to entertain audience members ranging from diehard Rossini fans to those wary of opera in general.

“The Barber of Seville” in English and Italian: Featherstone Center for the Arts, Oak Bluffs. Gala and opera performance, Friday, July 29, 6 pm. $150 to $500, includes dinner and a brief ceremony celebrating this year’s “Inspiration Award Honoree,” local music director/performer Peter Boak. Opera performances, Saturday, July 30, 7 pm and Sunday, July 31 at 7 pm. $35-$100. For tickets and more information, visit wendytaucherdanceoperatheater.com.