Gioachino ROSSINI (1792-1868)
L’Italiana in Algeri - Dramma giocoso in 2 Acts
Mustafà – Lorenzo Regazzo (bass);
Elvira – Ruth Gonzalez (soprano);
Zulma – Elsa Giannoulidou (mezzo);
Haly – Giulio Mastrototaro (bass);
Lindoro – Lawrence Brownlee (tenor);
Isabella – Marianna Pizzolato (contralto);
Taddeo – Bruno de Simone (bass);
Transylvania State Philharmonic Choir, Cluj;
Virtuosi Brunensis/Alberto Zedda
rec. live, Kursaal, Bad Wildbad, Germany, 2, 3, 5 July 2008
NAXOS 8.660284-85 [68:57 + 67:17]


It took me only a few seconds of listening to realise that there was likely to be something special about this recording. The Overture is so well known and often played, but here it comes up with the kind of invigorating freshness and brightness that brings an immediate grin to your face. Partly this is due to the use of the recent critical edition by Azio Corghi, whose changes of flute to piccolo in the allegro section, and detailed changes of phrasing throughout are entirely for the better, but it is due even more to the sheer rhythmic grace and suppleness of the playing. Alberto Zedda may have been nearly 80 when this recording was made but you would never guess it from the results. The orchestra sounds to be of an appropriate size for the work – not on historic instruments, I understand, but certainly historically informed - and it has been recorded in an acoustic which appropriately feels like the kind of medium-sized opera-house that Rossini would have expected.

Apart from Lawrence Brownlee the cast is not as starry as other versions of the work, but what is much more important is that the majority of the soloists are native speakers of Italian and all have clearly been thoroughly rehearsed together as an ensemble. Brownlee sings with grace and manliness - an uncommon quality in this role. Bruno de Simone and Lorenzo Regazzo have voices which are clearly distinguishable from each other and both are masters of Rossini’s writing for comic basses. The ladies are perhaps less individual, Marianna Pizzolato in particular lacking the kind of vivid characterisation that we find in recordings with, say, Marilyn Horne or Jennifer Larmore. Nonetheless she sings with great beauty where required, and at all times communicates the dramatic situation to the audience. It is indeed this quality of communication which makes the recording special. There is no sense of a routine run-through; instead there is the freshness of apparent new discovery.

This is wholly appropriate as L’Italiana in Algeri was written when the composer was only twenty-one. He had written nine operas before it but here reveals himself for the first time as a complete master of writing for the stage and one determined to make this clear to the audience. The special merit of this performance is that the performers are clearly working as an ensemble. It was recorded at live performances but the only significant adverse effects are very occasional moments of ragged ensemble and the brief applause at the end of some, but not all, numbers. On the other hand the very positive effect is the palpable sense of involvement in the performance from everyone involved.

Naxos have recorded a number of Rossini operas at the Wildbad Festival already, but this is by some way the best I have heard so far. No libretto is included with the set and that on their website is in Italian only. There is however a detailed and helpfully cued synopsis which is some consolation - although in a comic opera you really do need to be able to understand all the words to appreciate it as the composer intended.

John Sheppard