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Rossini, The Italian Girl in Algiers: Soloists, Orchestra of Scottish Opera. Conductor: Wyn Davies. Edinburgh Festival Theatre, 28.11.2009 (SRT)


Mustafa – Tiziano Bracci

Isabella – Karen Cargill

Lindoro – Thomas Walker

Taddeo – Adrian Powter

Elvira – Mary O’Sullivan

Zulma – Julia Riley

Haly – Paul Carey Jones

Orchestra of Scottish Opera

Chorus of The Italian Girl in Algiers

Wyn Davies (conductor)



Colin McColl (director)

Tony Rabbit (set and lighting designer)

Nic Smillie (costumes)


A few years ago any Rossini opera (except The Barber) was a relative rarity in Britain. It is a testament to how much the composer’s stock has risen that Scottish Opera could not only mount such a sparkling production of this opera but could produce the finest Rossini singing I’ve heard north of London in recent years. It is all the more heartening that nearly all the soloists were British and that the two leading lovers were, in fact, Scottish. I had to keep reminding myself of this fact all evening because the thing that you notice first about this production was the dazzlingly inventive staging.


Scottish Opera’s General Director, Alex Reedijk, has assembled a creative team that he must have known from his time at the head of New Zealand Opera. Director and both designers hail from New Zealand and in his programme note Colin McColl said that his idea for the production came from light glinting on the waters of Auckland harbor, conjuring up images of the super-rich at play. His idea is to set the opera on the set of a soap opera called Algiers, the actors playing the parts of the super-rich, their assistants and their bimbos. Mustafa becomes a tycoon with a private island, Elvira his bit of stuff and Haly his enforcer (referred to in one surtitle as “Mack the Knife!”). The sleazy celebrity world is a neat (though, some might say, cowardly) way of getting round all the Orientalist and sexual problems inherent in the text and, if parts of it are incredibly silly then at least it chimes in with the predominantly irreverent tone of Rossini’s music. The most creative element was to have the characters playing out the action in front of a green-screen which allowed all manner of backdrops to be brought into play. We then saw these projected onto a screen above the stage which also held the supertitles. So the opening scene is played out on Mustafa’s private beach, the end of Act 1 is in the bowels of his yacht and the Lindoro/Mustafa duet takes place while they are waterskiing! If some of the jokes got a little bit tired towards the end then the general pace was always upbeat and very fun.


The only problem with the inventiveness of the staging was that if you weren’t careful then it could distract you from the quality of the singing. Every single principal was of the highest order and, almost more important, their standard of ensemble was top-notch too. Leading the pack was Karen Cargill’s fire-eating Isabella, decked out in all manner of fiery red costumes. Her heroic middle register was perfect for articulating all of Isabella’s declamatory solos while the top really gleamed in her great Act 2 Rondo. Thomas Walker’s Lindoro was as fine a portrayal as you are likely to hear. The voice is ardent while remaining light, if still a little throaty. His great Act 1 cantilena flowed beautifully and the endless runs and roulades came off very well indeed. He also acted the strutting popinjay very effectively. Tiziano Bracci is a true buffo bass of the highest order. The middle and top of his range were more secure than the bottom but his blustery acting and his powerful singing would stand up to scrutiny anywhere today. An altogether different baritone was evinced by Adrian Powter, lighter and less declamatory, but flexible and comic. Zulma and Haly added great things to the ensembles and, if Mary O’Sullivan’s Elvira was a little shrill, this made her ideally suited to the character’s nagging irritability.


I wasn’t quite so convinced by Wyn Davies’ conducting: the faster passages of the overture didn’t hang together quite so well while the Act 2 Quintet too often sounded confused and out of time. The orchestra played well, though, especially the all important woodwinds whose chatter lends so much distinctive colour to this remarkable score. The specially assembled main chorus sounded great and acted superbly as techies, make-up artists and cameramen.


All told, then, a surprising but very fun evening. It was certainly unforgettable, but for all the right reasons.


Simon Thompson

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