A rollicking "Barber of Seville" at Seattle Opera.

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OPERA REVIEW |

Peter Kazaras’ new production of Rossini’s “Barber of Seville” is such fun that a spectator might be tempted to ask: Can these rollicking high spirits be compatible with Great Art?

The temptation should be resisted. Great comedy may be even harder to achieve than great tragedy. Rossini was capable of tragic sublimity, as you can see from such works of his as “Moses in Egypt” and “William Tell.” Yet he was also partial to a romp, and nowhere did he indulge that partiality to better effect than in “Barber.”

By comparison with Mozart’s “Marriage of Figaro,” as Kazaras points out, Rossini’s opera is closer to the commedia dell’arte tradition, in which, as he says, “subtlety and depth of character are less apparent and valuable than fleetness and dexterity.”

Crafted in collaboration with choreographer Rosa Mercedes and lighting designer Duane Schuler, effects that recall hilarious moments from such unexpected sources as “The Wizard of Oz” and the Marx Brothers’ “Duck Soup” may look irreverent. But what Kazaras has done is, rather, to treat this supreme comic opera with the greatest respect.

His staging takes Rossini’s repertoire of musical gesture, full as it is of sheer zaniness, and turns it into an equally zany visual experience, while illuminating the characters’ puppetlike status.

No dutiful devotee of art need feel guilty about having a good time at this marvelous Seattle Opera production. I can’t remember the last time I laughed so much at any opera house. John Stoddart’s handsome reversible set, created originally for Canadian Opera, works brilliantly, like a sort of operatic twist on Michael Frayn’s “Noises Off.” The experience was enhanced by the superb quality of Dean Williamson’s orchestra and Beth Kirchhoff’s chorus. And there wasn’t a single weakness among the soloists either at the Saturday opening-night performance or in the second-cast Sunday matinee.

Argentine-born baritone José Carbó, in his U.S. debut, got Saturday off to a flying start with his irresistible portrayal of the barber Figaro. David Adam Moore, on Sunday, sang and acted with fine aplomb, but on a merely normal human scale, whereas Carbó’s outsize personality and charm had the audience in the palm of his hand from the get-go, and his voice is gorgeous.

The role of Rosina is shared between soprano Sarah Coburn and mezzo-soprano Kate Lindsey. Both as lovely to look at as to listen to, they caught the character’s mix of tenderness and spitfire volatility to perfection. Coburn’s performance perhaps yielded more in the way of stunning vocal fireworks at the top of the range, but on Sunday, Lindsey’s warmer tone achieved thrills that fully compensated at a slightly lower pitch.

Publicity for the production has centered on the return of Seattle Opera Young Artists Program alumnus Lawrence Brownlee, now a tenor of world renown, as Almaviva. His dramatic flair, warmly focused voice, and seemingly effortless technique — magisterial in the rarely performed aria “Cessa di più resistere” — justified all the hype. Nicholas Phan, making his company debut as Sunday’s Almaviva, was excellent, but not quite as smooth of vocal line.

Both casts featured Patrick Carfizzi and Burak Bilgili, both wonderfully comical as Bartolo and Basilio, and Sally Wolf made a hit with the long-suffering maid Berta’s one touching little aria.

But then the whole production is, to steal Osric’s phrase in “Hamlet,” a very palpable hit. Don’t miss it.

Bernard Jacobson: bernardijacobson@comcast.net