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Gioachino ROSSINI (1792-1868)
L’italiana in Algeri - opera giocosa in two acts (1813)
Mustafa, Bey of Algiers - Marco Vinco (bass); Elvira, Mustafa’s wife - Barbara Bargnesi (soprano); Haly, captain of the Algerian pirates - Alex Esposito (bass); Lindoro, a young Italian and Mustafa’s favourite slave - Maxim Miranov (tenor); Isabella, an Italian lady - Marianna Pizzaloto (mezzo); Taddeo, Isabella’s companion - Bruno De Simone (buffa baritone)
Prague Chamber Choir
Orchestra of the Teatro Communale, Bologna/Donato Renzetti
rec. live, BPA Palais, Pesaro, August 2006, Rossini Opera Festival
Performed in the Critical Edition by Azio Corghi for the Rossini Foundation in collaboration with Casa Ricordi
Director, set and costumes designer: Dario Fo
Video Director: Tiziano Mancini
Recorded in High Definition. Presented in dts digital surround sound, Dolby, PCM 2.0. Vision 16:9 Colour. NTSC
Menu language English. Subtitles in Italian (original language), English, German, French, Spanish and Chinese. Notes and synopsis in Italian, English, German, and French
DYNAMIC 33526 [2 DVDs: 150:00]


Rossini first made his mark in a highly competitive profession with a series of five farsi presented at Venice’s small San Moise theatre. He came to the notice of the city’s premiere theatre, La Fenice, who commissioned him to write an opera seria. His Tancredi, based on Voltaire’s tragedy, but given a happy ending, following on 6 February 1813 and was a resounding success. Rossini reverted to Voltaire’s tragic ending in a revival at Ferrara a few weeks later. This north Italian audience, also used to happy endings, was less enthusiastic than that at Venice. This version was given at Pesaro in 2005 (DVD review).

After the revised Tancredi, Rossini returned to Venice to write a comic opera, at short notice, for the Teatro San Benedetto who were in a hole after another composer had failed to deliver. Faced with a timetable of less than a month, Rossini later claimed to have composed the work in a mere eighteen days and short cuts were inevitable. First it was decided to recycle, with some revisions the libretto of an existing opera, Luigi Mosca’s L’Italiana in Algeri of 1808. Rossini outsourced the recitatives and also Haly’s short aria in act 2 La femmine d’Italia. Premiered on 22 May 1813, Rossini’s version of L’Italiana in Algeri, his eleventh opera, was received with almost constant wild, general applause according to a contemporary review. It is the earliest of the composer’s truly great full-length comedies. It has speed as well as felicitous melodies. Although it fell from the repertoire for a period early in the 20th century it was revived for the Spanish coloratura Conchita Supervia in 1925. It is one of the few Rossini operas to have had a presence in the catalogue since the early days of LP.

The plot concerns the feisty eponymous heroine Isabella. She has been sailing in the Mediterranean, accompanied by an elderly admirer Taddeo, in search of her lover Lindoro. After her ship is wrecked, Mustafa, the Bey of Algiers, finds her the ideal replacement for his neglected wife who he intends to marry off to a captured slave, who happens to be Lindoro. After complicated situations involving Taddeo being awarded the honour of Kaimakan and Mustafa in turn becoming a Pappataci, a spoof award invented by Isabella to keep him obeying her strict instructions, all ends well in a rousing finale with the Italians escaping from the clutches of the Bey.

The planning for the 2006 Pesaro Rossini Festival from which this live recording derives was complicated by the closure for refurbishment of some of the town’s major venues including the Palafestival. Works were presented in two out-of-town makeshift venues within a sports arena, a situation that will continue until at least 2009. As a consequence of this situation the normal festival programme of new productions was severely curtailed. Of the stage works presented, this recording is taken from performances in the BPA Palais of staged performances of Dario Fo’s 1994 hyper-activity production that featured the bravura American mezzo Jennifer Larmore in the eponymous role. I stress the hyper-activity. Fo’s productions do not do things by half measures. If it is possible to have movement or extraneous stage activity or props, then Fo will include it. As I indicate in my review of his recent Pesaro production of Rossini’s La Gazzetta, filmed when reprised at Barcelona in July 2005, it was easy to become confused by all the comings and goings of singers and extras.

What a critic, or audience member, rarely gets are the reflections of the participant singers to the production(s) in which they appear, or if they do so at all it is at best many years after the event. Philip Gossett, the renowned Rossini scholar and until recently responsible for the Critical Editions of the composer’s works performed at Pesaro, tells a few secrets in his recent book, Divas and Scholars, Chicago 2006. Revelations include the fact that he had to advise Jennifer Larmore to be circumspect about her decoration of the vocal line in her arias in the original production because of the physical activity demanded of her. I mentioned this in my review of the Dynamic CD from this series of Pesaro performances (review) and wondered if Fo’s production impacted on the sung performance. This DVD, presented in High Definition and superb sound is perfect for me to find out.

Each act is presented on one DVD. This generosity of presentation facilitates not only the sound but also the clarity of the picture enabling the multitudinous goings-on of the production to be seen in all their glory. As I infer, Fo has an extraordinary, if idiosyncratic, imagination and he lets it manifest itself in his opera productions. This production is a scenic spectacular populated by mock jungle animals, ships, imaginative representation of waves on the sea, a dancing mannequin who floats up and down and around, flags and dancers as well as a multitude of other effects and activity. Add the elaborate and many costume changes for the chorus as well as the principals and the result is a visual spectacular. At the end of the opera, apart from being overwhelmed, my thought was that the cost would have kept an average cash strapped provincial Italian or British opera company in new productions for a year. Very rarely is a singer allowed the luxury of a stand-and-deliver for an aria or in a scene.

Fo, as might be expected, makes much of the investment of Taddeo as Kaimakan (Disc 2 CH 3) and the Papatacci plot and its realisation (Disc 2 CH 7). In the first of those situations the singing and acting of Bruno De Simone is not overwhelmed by the goings-on and portrays Taddeo’s confusions and frustrations with aplomb. Barbara Bargnesi as Elvira, the Bey’s long-suffering wife, and Alex Esposito act and sing well in their roles. Marianna Pizzaloto’s Isabella looks good but her acting could be better. Her mezzo is excellent in the lower register, a little less so in her middle voice where she cannot always hold the vocal line, whilst her decorations do have a tendency to sharpness. This vocal unevenness is more evident in her rendering of Isabella’s act 2 Per lui che adoro (Disc 2 CH 4)) than in her act 1 Cruda sorte (Disc 1 CH 4). As Lindoro the Russian Maxim Miranov, a favourite at Pesaro, sings with an appealing tenore di grazia. His singing is most appealing in the ensembles and in his act 2 Cocedi amor pietoso (Disc 2 CH 2) he does so with some vocal elegance while managing not to be distracted by the dancing mannequin with which he has to interact.  I was recently greatly impressed by both the singing and acting of Marco Vinco as Dandini in the TDK video of the 2006 production of La Cenerentola at Genoa (review). In this performance, despite starting off sonorously and with good characterisation, he seems to be aware that his lean bass has not the innate sonority in the lower registers that an ideal characterisation of Mustafa requires over the whole of the opera.  He tires towards the end of act 1 and this is noticeable in the trio and act finale (CHs 10-11). In act 2 there are times when his voice becoming less steady and loses intonation and he fails to make much humour out of the act 2 Pappataci charade; perhaps overwhelmed by the activity Fo involves him in (CD 2 trs. 14-21). The ensemble singing goes with more zip than some other parts of the performance with the Prague Chamber Chorus contributing vibrantly and entering fully into their parts in the various escapades.

This production is shared with the Teatro Communale, Bologna, whose orchestra play superbly under the direction of Donato Renzetti who conveys a natural feel for the idiom. One virtue of a DVD recording, as against a live performance, is the ability to go back and see, and enjoy, what one missed the first time round. This is never truer than with this production of one of Rossini’s most comic creations. If you can get round the more questionable bits of husbands dumping their wives to pursue a flighty bit of Italian, then this spectacular with its many visual effects and staging, can be an ideal introduction for children as well as an enjoyment for parents and any other adults. It is certainly a contrast from the rather wacky update from Paris’s Palais Garnier in 1998 with Jennifer Larmore and Simon Alaimo rather more into their roles than their counterparts here (review).

Robert J Farr



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