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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 (sop); Haly, captain of the Algerian pirates - Alex Esposito (bass); Lindoro, a young Italian and Mustafa’s favourite slave - Maxim Miranov (ten); Isabella, an Italian lady - Marianna Pizzaloto (mezzo); Taddeo, Isabella’s companion - Bruno De Simone (buffa bar)
Prague Chamber Choir
Orchestra of the Teatro Communale, Bologna/Donato Renzetti
rec. live, BPA Palais, Pesaro, 12, 15, 19 August 2006, Rossini Opera Festival
Performed in the Critical Edition by Azio Corghi for the Rossini Foundation in collaboration with Casa Ricordi
DYNAMIC CDS 526/1-2 [69.43 + 73.47]

1813 was a memorable year for Rossini. He had made his mark in a highly competitive profession with a series of five operatic farces presented at Venice’s small San Moise theatre. He had also come to the notice of the city’s premier theatre, La Fenice, who commissioned him to write an opera seria. The last of the one act farsa, for San Moise was premiered in late January with the opera seria, Tancredi, based on Voltaire’s tragedy, but given a happy ending, following on 6 February 1813. Rossini’s version reverted to Voltaire’s tragic ending in the Ferrara revival of Tancredi a few weeks later. A north Italian audience used to happy endings was less enthusiastic than that at Venice.
After the revised Tancredi, Rossini returned to Venice. There he was 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 – 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 act 2 aria La femmine d’Italia (CD 2 tr.12). Rossini’s L’Italiana in Algeri, his eleventh opera, was premiered on 22 May 1813 to 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 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 where 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 the normal festival programme of new productions was severely curtailed. Of the stage works presented, this recording is taken from a series of staged performances in the BPA Palais of Dario Fo’s 1994 hyper-active production. It 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 on the productions in which they appear. 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 Edition of the composer’s works performed at Pesaro, tells a few secrets in his recent book, Divas and Scholars (Chicago Press). Revelations include the fact that he had to advise Larmore to be circumspect about her decoration of the vocal line in the original production because of the physical activity demanded of her. I mention that as I wonder about some of the singing in this live recording reprising the Fo production.
So much is promised but not fully realised in the singing. Marianna Pizzaloto’s mezzo is excellent in the lower register, less so in her middle voice which is slightly throaty and hooty. 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 (CD 2 tr. 7) than in her act 1 Cruda sorte (CD 1 tr. 9). The Russian Maxim Miranov as Lindoro has an appealing tenore di grazia voice. His singing is most engaging in the ensembles but in his act 2 Cocedi amor pietoso (CD 2 tr.3) he loses that beauty of tone with the intrusion of raw notes. The resultant applause is only tepid for what is the tenor party-piece of the work. Miranov is a favourite at Pesaro and as this recording derives from performances over three nights it is worrying if this is the best of his efforts. Marco Vinco’s innately lean bass starts off sonorously with good characterisation and with more colour than usual. But he too tires in act 2 with his voice becoming less steady and loses intonation. He fails to make much humour out of the act 2 Pappataci charade (CD 2 trs. 14-21). Bruno De Simone as Taddeo, Isabella’s supposed uncle but really a suitor, is steadily and expressively sung and characterised. He makes much of his time as a Kaimakan and over Taddeo’s interactions with Vinco’s Mustafa. Alex Esposito’s Haly is also well sung and portrayed as is Barbara Bargnesi’s Elvira, Mustafa’s long-suffering wife who learns a few tricks about husband management from Isabella.
The ensemble singing goes with more zip than some other parts of the work, the chorus contributing vibrantly where appropriate. The 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. Whatever the problems of travelling to Pesaro’s out of town venue, its acoustic quality is wholly satisfactory as caught by Dynamic’s engineers. The balance of singers and orchestra is ideal and pleasingly catches the good diction of the former.
I do not know if this production by Dario Fo was filmed at its first run at Pesaro in 1994 or elsewhere. It may be that Dynamic, from their attendance on three nights, will issue a DVD. If so Rossini and Fo supporters may want to wait a while before purchasing.
Robert J Farr


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