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Gioachino ROSSINI (1792-1868) 
L’italiana in Algeri. Dramma giocosa in two acts (1813)
rec. May 2018, Haus für Mozart, Salzburg
UNITEL DVD 801808 [2 DVDs 77:39 + 84:32]

1813 was a memorable year for Rossini. He had made his mark in a highly competitive profession with a series of five one-Act operatic farces presented at Venice’s small San Moise theatre. These farces brought the young composer to the notice of the city’s premiere theatre, La Fenice, which commissioned him to write an opera seria. The last of the one-Act farsa for the San Moise, was premiered in late January with the opera seria, Tancredi, based on Voltaire’s tragedy, but given a happy ending, following on 6th February. (Rossini’s reverted to Voltaire’s tragic ending in a revival of Tancredi at Ferrara a few weeks later, albeit that the north-Italian audience, used to happy endings, was less enthusiastic than that at Venice).

After the revised Tancredi, Rossini returned to Venice to write a comic opera, at short notice, for the Teatro San Benedetto, which was in some difficulty 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 with short cuts 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, sees in her the ideal replacement for his neglected wife whom 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 on a quite magnificent boat.
In this 2018 Salzburg Festival production the role of Isabella is sung by the famous coloratura diva and operatic administrator, Cecilia Bartoli, well known for her coloratura skills in Rossini and the like. Strangely, it is a role she had not sung before. The production is directed by the famous duo of Moshe Leiser and Patrice Caurier. It is, needless to say, in this day and age, that the production is updated in terms of costume and story with Bartoli playing the liberated western lady arriving in a modern Algeria, where more traditional mores appertain with the local big man, the Bey, having a court of fawning employees meeting all his needs as he drives his Mercedes and lives it up. Meanwhile his wife, despite her best offers and efforts, no longer massages his libido with her would-be carnal endearments and is in the out tray. His eye and libido roam elsewhere with Isabella’s propitiously arrival meeting his dreams. The opening scene has him ignoring his wife’s endearment in the marital bed, which he leaves in his undies to reveal a very capacious paunch, padding I hope, as he offers his wife as partner to his slave Lindoro, who happens to be the missing guy sought by Isabella after her boat was shipwrecked. Yes, there are models of camels as a means of arrival, but so is a modern, albeit battered looking car as Mustafa is no longer the Bey, more a local gangster who has a smuggling side-line in a more modern Algiers to which Isabella brings some much-needed class. She finds and rescues her own Innamorato with both of them, together with their acolytes, sailing off in a resplendent boat.

As the Bey cum local mobster, Ildar Abdrazakov sings with sonorous tone and acts the role well, whether in underpants and vest, or more fully dressed. His portrayal is really first class as husband or spoofed Pappataci. His facial expression and ogling eyes as he espies Isabella having a bath is masterly. In aspects of character portrayal, he is matched by the vastly experienced Alessandro Corbelli, whose classic interpretation may also be heard, and seen in the 1998 Palais Garnier performance of the work, also available on DVD (review). He also appears as Haly in a Vienna production by Ponelle. Every nuance of the action and evolution of the plot is clearly portrayed on his face and in his acted portrayal as well as his sung interpretation, his voice having stood the test of time and care. As Lindoro, Isabella’s lost lover, Edgardo Rocha has a pleasing and expressive plangent tone and acts the role well. As was the fashion, the other lesser roles have their own vocal and acted opportunities, which they all take well vocally as well as being consummate as actors. As to La Bartoli, I have been privileged to hear her live as well as enjoying her recorded interpretations on film and record. In a word, she is outstanding as actress, interpreter and singer. Being honest I would prefer it had she spent more time on stage than administration! This sung and acted performance from her is as good as I had hoped and expected.

On the orchestral side, Jean-Christophe Spinosi draws elegant phrases and individual notes from his period instrument band in a manner to complement what is happening on stage.

Robert J Farr

Previous review (Blu-ray): Mike Parr

Cast & disc details
Mustafa, Bey of Algiers - Ildar Abdrazakov (bass); Elvira, Mustafa’s wife - Rebeca Olvera (sop); Haly, captain of the Algerian pirates – José Coca Loza (bass); Lindoro, a young Italian and Mustafa’s favourite slave - Edgardo Rocha (ten); Isabella, an Italian lady – Cecilia Bartoli (mezzo-sop.); Taddeo, Isabella’s companion - Alessandro Corbelli (buffa bar); Zulma – Rosa Bove (mezzo-sop.)
Philharmonia Chor Wien; Pianoforte, Luca Quintavalle; Ensemble Matheus/Jean-Christophe Spinosi
Directors, Moshe Leiser and Patrice Caurier; Sets Designer, Christian Fenouillat; Costumes, Agostino Cavalca; Lighting, Christophe Forey.
Video Director, Tiziano Mancini
rec. May 2018, Haus für Mozart, Salzburg
Sung in Italian (original language), with subtitles in English, German, French, Italian, Korean, Japanese
rec. in Ultra High Definition. Picture Format NTSC. 16.9. Sound Format, PCM s=Stereo. DTS 5.1
Sound Format: PCM Stereo, DD 5.1. DVD Format: DVD 9, NTSC. Picture Format: 16:9
Booklet essay and synopsis in English, German and French

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