If Rossini had been in the audience on Thursday night at the Harry de Jur Playhouse, he would surely have found the stylish and witty new production of “Il Signor Bruschino” by the Gotham Chamber Opera as cheekily funny as everyone else did.
In this frothy, youthful comedy, Rossini experiments with the comic gift for mistaken identities evident in his later opera “Il Barbiere di Siviglia.” The Venetian poet Giuseppe Maria Foppa wrote the libretto for “Bruschino,” based on “Le Fils par Hazard,” a French farce. Two young lovers, Florville and Sofia, want to marry. But Florville is the son of an enemy of Gaudenzio, Sofia’s guardian, who in any event has already promised her to the eminent Bruschino family. Florville waylays and impersonates the legitimate groom, then convinces Gaudenzio that he is Bruschino’s son.
Thanks to Robin Guarino’s clever directing, an opera that could be mere bumbling slapstick is sharp, with snappy comic timing. Donald Eastman’s set updates the action to the Via Veneto in Rome in about 1960. The costume designer Martin Pakledinaz presents Florville, sung by Alek Shrader, as a sort of Marcello Mastroianni, and Sofia, sung by Lisa Hopkins, as a demurely dressed Anita Ekberg.
There were other Felliniesque touches, like a Vespa, a bicycle, a priest and a scampering little boy who knocks on a door to mirror the moment in the overture when the violinists tap their music stands with their bows.
“Il Signor Bruschino” has plenty of tongue-twisting recitative and vocal acrobatics, but none of the strong cast seemed trapped in a coloratura torture chamber. At times they even made a merry farce of Rossini’s bel canto obstacle course.
There was fiery chemistry between Ms. Hopkins and Mr. Shrader, both promising performers, who sang with good phrasing and control. Eric Jordan gave a fine, confident performance as the jovial, fabulously named Gaudenzio Strappapuppole, who almost seems a personification of Rossini, a cheery, witty gourmand.
Signor Bruschino was updated from a generic buffo character to an oily, scholarly-looking, suit-clad neurotic, excellently acted and sung by Marco Nistico.
As the maid Marianna, Emily Langford Johnson was a sexy, Sophia Loren-like flirt, while Filiberto, the burly barman, was sung with aplomb by Matthew Lau. Steven Goldstein, as the police commissioner and priest, was also strong.
Neal Goren, Gotham’s artistic director, conducted a lively, tight performance of the chirpy score. Rossini reportedly declared that he was “born for opera buffa.” On Thursday night it seemed that this cast had been as well.