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Gioachino ROSSINI (1792-1868)
L’italiana in Algeri - Opera giocosa in two acts (1813) [153:00]
Mustafa, Bey of Algiers - Alex Esposito (bass); Elvira, Mustafa’s wife - Mariangela Sicilia (soprano); Haly, captain of the Algerian pirates - Davide Luciano (bass); Lindoro, a young Italian, loved by Isabella and Mustafa’s favourite slave - Yijie Shi (tenor); Isabella, an Italian lady - Anna Goryachova (mezzo); Taddeo, Isabella’s companion - Mario Cassi (buffa baritone)
Orchestra and chorus of the Teatro Communale, Bologna/José Ramón Encinar
rec. live, Pesaro Rossini Festival 2013
Stage Director: David Livermore
Set and Lighting Designer: Nicholas Bovey
Costume Designer: Gianluca Falaschi.
Video Director: Tiziano Mancini
Sound format: DD 5.1. DTS 5.1. LPCM stereo
Picture format: 16:9 anamorphic
Introductory notes: English, German, French
Subtitles: Italian (original language), English, German, French, Korean
Performed in the Critical Edition by Azio Corghi for the Fondazione Rossini, Pesaro
Also available in Blu-Ray.
OPUS ARTE DVD OA1141D [153:00 + 10:00]

Rossini’s L’Italiana in Algeri, his eleventh opera, was premiered on 22 May 1813 to "almost constant wild, general applause". It is the first of the composer’s truly great full-length comedies. 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 slave who happens to be Lindoro. After complicated situations involving Taddeo being awarded the honour of Kaimakan and Mustafa becoming a Pappataci, a spoof award invented by Isabella to keep him obeying strict instructions, all ends well in a rousing finale.
 
As I have noted in other productions from the Pesaro Rossini Festival, and as the Superintendent of the Pesaro Festival openly notes in the bonus, he believes that the Festival audience expect something different and in any case will turn up. The latter might be true, although critical opinion has found many of these new productions to be less than enamouring to the general public as with that of Rossini’s Mose in Egitto (review). This policy is particularly riling for the Rossini enthusiasts as the Pesaro Festival has commissioned Critical Editions of works rarely performed elsewhere yet end up staging them in unconventional ways. Up to the recent past the American scholar Philip Gossett, who eventually parted company with the Pesaro Festival on this issue often realized these Editions.

In the case of L’Italiana in Algeri the idiosyncratic nature of this 2013 bicentenary Pesaro Festival production is of less consequence because there are plenty of more traditional alternatives to that presented by David Livermore in this performance. He utilises every cinematographic trick in the book but lacks the genius to give them individuality. In the end they became unduly repetitive, distracting and tedious, but I recognise that others may find them entertaining. However, on a restricted stage with a single revolve there often seems to be too much going on without the addition of projected helicopters, telephone signals, oil wells and whatever along with the seemingly de rigueur three dimensional automatic rifles. The cast never seem to stand still, jigging along with the vibrant melodies of Rossini’s creation and singing at the same time. The costumes include the latest haute couture for Isabella; the sort of thing that might be seen on the catwalk or the beach at St Tropez. We see a lot, nod, wink, wink, of Anna Goryachova in the eponymous role, whether it be an appealing length of thigh or a delightful, not over-capacious, décolletage in a dress or bikini. She is easy on the eye as well as the ear, singing with luscious tone over a wide vocal range. Just occasionally her runs are smudged, but she is a delight to hear and to admire how she copes with Livermore’s often outrageous demands.

Anna Goryachova is well matched as actor and singer by Alex Esposito as the egocentric would-be womaniser Mustafa who has tired of his wife. He smokes constantly which maybe why he has to pop the little blue pills to deal, he hopes, with the Italian floozy of his dreams who has arrived on his shores. We see plenty of him too, in beachwear as well as more traditional pseudo-Turkish or Algerian get-up. Fortunately his figure is up to the visual demands. Vocally he is excellent with good tone, enunciation and vocal characterisation. When not snogging her, Yijie Shi as Isabella’s lover, has a pleasing plangent tone and the vocal flexibility for the high notes. Regrettably, these virtues are not matched by his acting or much of a variety of tonal colour. Of the rest of the cast, only Mario Cassi as Taddeo rises above the average. On the rostrum José Ramón Encinar paces the work, in its intricacies well — no mean achievement with all the stage distractions. The balding head of Alex Esposito exposes apparatus behind one ear that may indicate that the singers are miked, hardly a necessity I would have thought in the Teatro Rossini in Pesaro.

In its usual parsimonious way, Opus Arte does not include a list of chapters and timings. Consequently I do not cross-reference my comments to particular scenes and arias.
 
Appendix: 1813, Venice and the launch of Rossini
Rossini first made his mark in a highly competitive profession with a series of five farsi presented at Venice’s small San Moise theatre. This had brought him to the notice of the city’s premier theatre, La Fenice which commissioned him to write an opera seria. The last of the one act farsi, and his ninth opera, Il Signor Bruschino was premiered at the San Moise in late January 1813 with the opera seria for the Fenice being premiered on 6 February. The opera seria, Tancredi, was based on Voltaire’s tragedy, but given a happy ending, as was the tradition. After initial problems with singer indisposition it was a resounding success and was given about fifteen times in the season (Osborne, The Bel Canto Operas. Methuen, 1994, p.30). Tancredi’s catchy cavatina Di tanti palpiti became the whistling tune of the contemporary Italian streets. Rossini’s revision of Tancredi for Ferrara a few weeks later reverted to the tragic ending favoured by Voltaire (DVD review). The audience, used to happy endings, was less enthusiastic than that at Venice, however the work soon found widespread acclaim and was heard in several Italian towns. Within a few years it had been translated and performed in the major cities of Europe and the Americas.

After his visit to Ferrara to present the revised Tancredi, Rossini returned to Venice to write a comic opera, at short notice, for the Teatro San Benedetto after another composer failed to deliver. With a timetable of less than a month, Rossini 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 as well as Haly’s short act 2 La femmine d’Italia.

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 certainly has speed as well as felicitous melodies. Although it fell from the repertoire for a period early in the twentieth 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 successes of 1813 projected Rossini to the forefront of the many opera composers active in Italy at that time. Importantly, Domenico Barbaja, formidable impresario of the Royal Theatres of Naples, also saw Rossini as pre-eminent among his contemporaries. He summoned Rossini to the city and offered him the position of musical director of the city’s two Royal Theatres, the San Carlo and Fondo. Barbaja’s proposals appealed to Rossini for several reasons. Not only was his annual fee generous and guaranteed, but also the San Carlo had a professional orchestra, unlike the theatres of Rome and Venice. The composer saw this as a considerable advantage as he aspired to push the boundaries of his opera composition into more adventurous directions. This would also be more acceptable to the sophisticated audience of the San Carlo.

The first opera seria Rossini composed for Naples was Elisabetta regina d’Inghilterra, his fifteenth opera, premiered on 4 October 1815. Under the terms of the contract, Rossini was to provide two operas each year for Naples whilst being permitted to compose occasional works for other cities. It was a condition Rossini pushed to the limit and beyond. In the first two years of the contract he composed no fewer than five operas for other venues, including four for Rome where he went after the premiere of Elisabetta to present performances of Il Turco in Italia (No.13) at the Teatro Valle and to write a new work, Torvaldo e Dorliska (No 16) for the same theatre. Prior to the premiere of Torvaldo e Dorliska on 15 December, Rossini signed a contract with the rival Teatro de Torre Argentina in Rome for a comic opera to be presented during its Carnival Season. This was to be delivered by mid-January. It was to be Il Barbiere di Siviglia, the greatest of all his comic operas and was to induce Beethoven, when the two met in Vienna in 1822, to advise him to compose nothing else except in that genre.

In reality, Rossini composed only nine opera seria and one comic opera for Naples by 1822 when he concluded his contract. The last, Zelmira, was his thirty-third opera; the others, between it and Elisabetta had been composed for other theatres. By then a rich man, Rossini, after going to Vienna to present Semiramide, and England where he sang duets with the king, went to Paris on a very lucrative contract as Director of the Théâtre Italien. There he was also required to write operas, in French, for presentation at The Opéra: Théâtre de l’Académie Royale de Musique. At the age of thirty-seven, after his thirty-ninth opera, Guillaume Tell (1829), Rossini retired from operatic composition enjoying food and the soirees his second wife organised in Paris. It was the end of a era launched by the successes of his two seminal works, an opera seria and a comic opera that he presented in Venice in 1813. Rossini's journey had set new directions for Italian opera and laid the foundations for what was to follow from Donizetti, Bellini and Verdi.

Robert J Farr