A sticker on the front of this Blu-ray offers a classic case of selective
quotation: ‘Hugely Impressive. (Seen and Heard International)’. What
Jack Buckley actually wrote in his review
for our sister site was: ‘Not too many bassi buffi can appear
successfully in beach shorts. But Esposito does, a crown in his hugely
impressive delivery.’ Overall he was less impressed than that selective
phrase implies: in particular he disliked the way that Anna Goryachova’s
Italian Girl eschewed charm and, thereby, the necessary irony. ‘Rossini,
I fear, had not been well served’, he wrote, giving his review the
overall title ‘Would you want this tough Italian Girl?’
Nor was JB much taken with Yijie Shi’s Lindoro, though, as he notes,
the Italian audience adored him. In sum, only Alex Esposito’s Mustafà
and José Ramón Encinar’s thoughtful musical direction emerged with any
My heart didn’t exactly leap when I opened the parcel and beheld
the shocking pink front cover and the 1960s-style thigh-length white
boots and gloves – a mixture of Holly Golightly and Emma Peel from
? Was this going to be yet another opera DVD or
blu-ray which ended being heard in audio only, if at all?
With that in mind, I opted to listen first rather than watch. A
lively account of the overture gets us off to a good start, though
the noises off – already? – are a little disturbing for audio-only
appreciation, so I switched to see what it was all about. Viewed
on screen the reason for the noises becomes apparent, with someone
– Lindoro as it later transpires – trying to evade a spotlight and
soldiers searching for him.
Our Italian girl first appears in cartoon form, leading a spoiled
life style and buying a ticket to fly off in search of Lindoro. Plane
crashes, supposedly brought down by a random ‘lucky’ shot from Mustafà,
and she emerges from wreckage, looking unruffled – I suppose that’s
a reasonable modern substitute for a shipwreck, but worse is to follow.
The whole production is one big charade, with silly costumes, 1960s
references and dance movements and superfluous action getting in the
way of the plot – such as it is – and, more importantly, the music.
To give just one example, veiled young women constantly pushing vacuum
cleaners to and fro is highly distracting.
Half way through I gave up watching and switched to playing via
the blu-ray players which I keep hooked up to my audio system. I
have to use them so often for that purpose for opera recordings where
the action is crazy that they are both of higher quality than the
one linked to the television.
Played via an audio system, the recorded sound is good, if not quite
in the same category as the Naxos blu-ray set of Rossini overtures.
(Volume 1 on NBD0028 – review
is on Volume 2: NBD0035).
As an audio recording the new Opus Arte has some formidable competition
to match, from the classic Decca set with Teresa Berganza, Rolando Panerai
and Silvio Varviso (E4758275) and more recent recordings directed by
Claudio Scimone (Teldec 2564683359: Bargain of the Month – review
and Claudio Abbado (DG E4273312 or, with other Rossini operas, 4790125,
9 CDs), all at mid price or less. The inexpensive Naxos live recording
with Alberto Zedda in charge also has its virtues – review
Roundup June 2010
– though it’s the Abbado that I used as my benchmark.
Even as an mp3 download it sounds very well and I also sampled it in
better lossless format from Qobuz
it still sounds at least as good as the new Opus Arte and there’s no
noisy stage business to contend with.
I’m sorry to say that in almost every respect Abbado and his team
put the new recording to shame. There’s nothing downright awful about
any of the singing – as there is with the production – but there’s
very little that makes it competitive with the Abbado or Scimone sets.
As Jack Buckley writes, only Esposito shines and only he comes at
all near to challenging the singers on either of these sets. Samuel
Ramey’s Mustafà and Marilyn Horne’s Isabella for Scimone in particular
take some beating, as do Agnes Baltsa and Ruggero Raimondi for Abbado.
I did, however, admire the way in which Encinar kept the music ticking
over through all the mayhem. The less than enthusiastic reception
that he received at the end was most unjust. Yijie Shi, on the other
hand, a favourite of the audience, received an encomium for his decent
but far from outstanding performance.
I put this review aside for a while in the hope that my response
to this recording would mellow and I would be able to say something
kinder about it. In the meantime Robert J Farr’s review of the DVD
equivalent has appeared and he has been a little more appreciative
– for example of Anna Goryachova’s singing of Isabella. Though he
notes some of her smudged runs he also refers to the inevitable limitations
caused by the outrageous demands which Livermore’s direction places
He’s right to complain of the parsimonious nature of the booklet,
which is no better for the blu-ray version: there’s a reasonable synopsis
but it’s not cued to the recording. It’s superfluous to add that
the blu-ray picture is excellent – too much detail of what I didn’t
want to see.
I’m sorry not to find much to like in this recording. Far too often
I find myself liking a performance but disliking the stage direction
and ending up listening in audio only. I’m pleased to report that,
working my way through the complete 2012 Frankfurt Opera Wagner Ring
cycle on Oehms DVDs has been an exception and a delight, odd quibbles
about the production and singing apart. For L’Italiana in Algeri
however, the alternatives are too superior for me even to consider
this recording as an audio-only option.
Previous review (DVD):
Robert J Farr