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Twenty years after the premiere of the Brooklyn Opera Society and Arts at St. Ann’s groundbreaking puppet-opera collaboration, "The Barber of Seville," the two groups are presenting an engaging and innovative anniversary production of the opera.

Staged at St. Ann’s Warehouse in DUMBO, "Barber" features a superb cast of opera singers: Chris Pedro Trakas as Figaro, the legendary barber, druggist, doctor, schemer and rascal; Brian Downen as the rich nobleman Count Almaviva; Julia Anne Wolf as Rosina, a pretty girl of Seville; and Randall Scarlata as Dr. Bartolo, her guardian, an old man who intends on marrying her so he can get her money.

The singers share the stage with more than 40 puppets - miniatures, life-size, shadow, giant papier-mache bodies and disembodied heads and limbs - designed and directed by Amy Trompetter. A pioneer in her field, Trompetter performed, designed and directed the Bread and Puppet Theater in Vermont for 18 years, then founded the Blackbird Theater in Rosendale, NY. All the puppets for this production were rebuilt because the original puppets were destroyed in a warehouse fire in 1987.

Kristjan Jarvi conducts his ensemble, Absolute, which recently won a Grammy nomination for its album "Absolution." David Neumann contributes his graceful, quirky and funny choreography.

"The Barber of Seville," one of the most popular comic operas ever, is the work of a playful young man. In fact, Gioacchino Rossini was not quite 24 when he wrote the opera, in 1816, based on a play written a generation earlier by a courtier, adventurer, dramatist and watchmaker, Pierre Augustin Caron, a.k.a. Beaumarchais.

The son of wandering musicians, Rossini was a bon vivant who could reportedly compose in the middle of a party, or while fishing or carrying on a conversation. He disliked writing a new overture for each of his operas and often used the same one for several; although perfectly suited to the opera, the overture to "The Barber of Seville" was written three years earlier and used in two other operas.

St. Ann’s engaging and innovative production not only does full justice to Rossini’s musical virtuosity, but also enhances his light, comic-opera style with a bit of commedia dell’ arte, a touch of vaudeville and a generous dash of the Marx Brothers.

Puppets tease the conductor; at one point, the conductor actually sings back to the performers; puppeteers interact with singers and singers consult the puppets. The tiny Count puppet is embraced by the huge limbs of his beloved Rosina.

Puppeteers’ arms and legs become the arms and legs of the puppets they hold.

Inanimate objects, like hearts and barber poles, join in the dance. Even the scenery is moved by puppeteers as part of the choreography, as when a traveling wall becomes a bed for the supposedly ailing music teacher, Don Basilio.

This production virtually envelops the audience. Puppet instruments descend from the aisles through the orchestra and up to the stage where they join the opera singers. A scribbling composer is suspended in a basket over the orchestra as it plays the overture.

St. Ann’s has used Boris Goldovsky and Sarah Caldwell’s English translation, which may lose some of the lilting melodiousness of the original Italian but captures all of the knavery, tenderness and trickery in the libretto.

Watching "The Barber of Seville," it can be hard to decide who is having more fun - the performers or the audience. But after the final bow is taken, it hardly seems to matter. Clearly, a good time was had by all.

"The Barber of Seville" plays through May 11, Thursday through Saturday at 8 pm, and Sunday at 3 pm, at St. Ann’s Warehouse, 38 Water St. at Dock Street. Tickets are $40. For tickets, call (718) 858-2424.

Updated 4:00 pm, November 10, 2010
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