Can we laugh about domestic violence? (Hint: the answer is no.) But that's the question posed by the New Century Chamber Orchestra this week with the rarely heard single act opera Rita by Gaetano Donizetti (Friday in Palo Alto, Saturday at the JCC in SF and Sunday in San Rafael). Donizetti, for those not in the know, penned favorite operatic repertory mainstays such as Lucia di Lammermor, Don Pasquale, La Fille du Regiment or the Elixir of Love. Rita focuses on the strife between the namesake character, a tyrannical and abusive wife, and her two husbands, the mercilessly oppressed Beppe and Gasparo. Not exactly the setup for a politically correct punchline, but Donizetti demonstrates that you can make a farce out of anything.

As unlikely as the daring storyline, the staging of this opera by a chamber orchestra. The New Century Chamber Orchestra is a conductor-less 19 piece string ensemble, so with Rita they're tackling a challenge. But risk taking is in their DNA. They have partnered with the SF Opera Center to borrow the voices of two Adler fellows (the young artist program of the SF Opera): Efraín Solís for the role of Gasparo, and Maria Valdes in the title role.

Completing the cast: tenor (and former Adler) Thomas Glenn as Beppe, who already sang this role in 2005 alongside baritone (and former Adler) Eugene Brancoveanu, who now directs this production.

We talked with Efraín and Maria on their roles, and the challenges of singing without a chef d'orchestre.