Is comedy merely about laughter? If so, then Minnesota Opera's new staging of Rossini's "The Barber of Seville" — originally seen at Glimmerglass Opera — certainly hits the button.
It's a riot of color and commedia dell'arte stylings, packed with sight gags, pratfalls and serial clowning, all acted with impressive gusto by a hard-worked cast of singers.
But Rossini's opera is more than that — beneath the comedy, real human beings lurk, with beating hearts and thwarted aspirations.
Little of this came through in an evening dominated by the notion that nothing can be taken seriously, and that cackling is the best response to everything.
The opera's plot is simple enough — a young woman, Rosina, is kept confined at home by her legal guardian Dr. Bartolo, who wants to marry her for her money.
She is eventually freed by Count Almaviva, an aristocrat who loves her, in cahoots with Figaro, the local barber who knows everybody and can fix anything.
At the evening's heart is the Rosina of Argentine mezzo-soprano Daniela Mack, who nails Rossini's often vertiginous vocal writing with ease and accuracy.
Mack fully embraced director Francesca Zambello's hyperactive approach to stage business but had little opportunity to make Rosina seem more than the coveted trophy in a tug-of-war between the opera's male characters.
As Count Almaviva, tenor Alek Shrader cut an endearing figure, struggling a little with Rossini's snaky coloratura but bringing the house down in the music lesson scene.
Bass-baritone Patrick Carfizzi sang a vocally strong Bartolo but was hamstrung by Zambello's conception of the character as an ambling buffoon — at one point he's reduced to writhing on the floor, caressing the shoe of Rosina.
But Bartolo has a dark side, too, as a money-grabbing, manipulative gaslighter. Was it really impossible to communicate some of this more thoughtful content amid the comedy?
Something similar was true of Andrew Gilstrap's Basilio, Rosina's music teacher. His keynote aria "La Calunnia" — about how to spread fake news effectively — can chill as much as it amuses, but instead it was framed as a surreal, smoke-and-bangs chemistry demonstration.
As Figaro, the fixer-upper of the opera's tangled situation, the Russian baritone Rodion Pogossov impressed with his solid vocalism and slick comic timing.
A small male chorus donned harlequinade costumes and flitted on and off the stage shifting scenery and brandishing placards that either described the action or made droll commentary on it.
John Conklin's set was spare, consisting mainly of a wooden house frame indicating Bartolo's dwelling. Drenched in a lurid sky-blue, it had the hyperreal atmosphere of the circus or an ice cream parlor.
The orchestra played efficiently if blandly in places, and some of conductor Joseph Mechavich's speeds were on the slow side.
In the end, the vaudeville, comic-book approach of this "Barber" grew wearisome, and the relentless two-dimensionality of its characters grated.
Not all of them are ciphers, and there's a psychological nuance to their interactions — and to Rossini's music — which we needed to see more of.
Terry Blain is a freelance classical music critic for the Star Tribune. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.