Penn State Opera stages iconic comedy

Students perform in the Penn State Opera production of “The Marriage of Figaro” in 2010. “The Barber of Seville,” which will premiere at The State Theatre on March 24, is the prequel to “The Marriage of Figaro.”
Students perform in the Penn State Opera production of “The Marriage of Figaro” in 2010. “The Barber of Seville,” which will premiere at The State Theatre on March 24, is the prequel to “The Marriage of Figaro.” Photo provided

Centre County will have two chances to see Gioachino Rossini’s iconic opera “The Barber of Seville” when it takes the stage at The State Theatre March 24. Performed by Penn State Opera, the two-act comedy has long been hailed as one of the most important and influential opera buffas of all time.

“It’s a very familiar opera and a standard repertoire that is still very fun, funny, and fast paced,” director Ted Christopher said. “This show presents a really wonderful opportunity for the cast to be silly and have a good time performing comedy on stage, which is a very challenging thing to do as an actor.”

For the past eight years, Christopher has served as the artistic director of Penn State Opera Theatre. An academic, educator and fan, he has also worked with various opera companies all over the world. Even after performing in such an eclectic array of operas, Christopher is still drawn to the eternal appeal of “Barber.”

“It’s one of the greatest comedic operas ever written,” Christopher said. “Nobody should go through life without being exposed to this wonderful music and characters. The characters are all great people to get to know and are very fun and silly. At the end of the day, they are also still very human and relatable.”

Christopher hopes that audiences will not only enjoy a high-quality show, but that they will also be able to gain a better understanding of opera.

“This is such a great opportunity to get to introduce this piece that I love very much and have been involved in for many, many years to a new audience,” Christopher said. “As educators in a performing arts program, we have a dual responsibility to produce a program that is interesting and innovative and clever and imaginative, but we also have a responsibility to teach and be participatory and encourage people to discover something new. Having the chance to introduce people to this sweet and funny opera is the most rewarding thing for me.”

In the years since its 1816 Rome premiere, “Barber” has become an opera hall stalwart. Both its music and plot have ensnared everyone from Woody Woodpecker to Bugs Bunny to Jerry Seinfeld into its comedic web. The opera’s screwball zaniness still resonates with audiences 200 years later and is a strong testament to its everlasting appeal.

“I think that audiences still relate to ‘Barber’ is because we love comedy and we love to laugh,” Christopher said. “There is a lot of silly slapstick that is still being made in popular, commercial entertainment and that sense of humor can easily be seen in ‘The Barber of Seville.’ ”

Originally performed in Italian, the upcoming shows will be done entirely in English. However, this change in language won’t be the only wrinkle separating this production from the original. The opera’s music will be played on only two pianos as opposed to a full orchestra.

“ ‘Barber’ has an extremely complex and challenging score,” Christopher said. “We are going to be using dueling pianos instead of a full or reduced orchestra. This approach really gives our singers the opportunity to stretch their legs. What we’re doing is more of a workshop production as opposed to a full-scale production. We are excited to be performing a show like this in such a jewel of a theater.”

As the premiere approaches, Christopher and Penn State Opera are excited to share with the community what they have been tirelessly working on for the past four months.

“It really is going to be a wonderful time,” Christopher said. “I hope that after leaving, people will realize that opera is not this scary, foreign thing, but rather that it is silly, fun, relevant, and is able to speak to them.”


  • What: Penn State Opera’s “The Barber of Seville”
  • When: 7:30 p.m. March 24 and 1:30 p.m. March 26
  • Where: The State Theatre, 130 W. College Ave., State College
  • Info: thestatetheatre.org