I have always loved Rossini's music, and while not my favourites like Il Barbiere Di Siviglia, La Cenerentola and William Tell, L'Italiana in Algeri is a comic masterpiece of opera with as ever amazing music. Of the two productions I've so far seen, I can't really decide which I prefer out of the 1986 production and this one. Both have great casts and are enormous fun. If I had to choose, I just prefer the production values here but just prefer the cast in that.
This production looks wonderful. The stage is small but considering how many operas I have heard from the likes of Rossini, Gluck and Handel that sound swamped musically occasionally in large buildings(unfortunately I do include the Met here) this was appropriate. I loved the shimmering blue sea backdrop, and equally so the opulent costumes and settings so sumptuous that I felt I was watching a performance of a beautifully produced Mozart opera or a Jean Pierre Ponnelle film. The video directing and picture quality are very good, and so is the sound once you get used to the stage noise.
From a musical point of view I don't have much to fault. The music requires a lot of style, sensitive accompanying and energy. The orchestra certainly had that, and Ralf Weikert's conducting is suitably jaunty. The male chorus are great, the sound they make is very strong while not ruining the style too much, and they look and sound as though they are having a whale of a time in the Pappataci chorus, and with the marching on stage, waving flags, clashing swords and mugging with Isabella.
I very much liked the stage direction. The end of Act 1 is hilarious and charming, and there are some little things I loved like Enrique Serra's Taddeo employing a snuff box, very witty. Sadly there was also one touch that did not work, and that was the monkey, very fake and distracting. The Buffo duet between Lindoro and Mustafa is one of the opera's highlights, and the monkey added absolutely nothing to it.
Apart from that, the singing was very professional. Doris Soffel plays Isabella with wit and reverence, has a very appealing voice with strong passage work(if perhaps not as impeccable as Marilyn Horne's). It is very easy hearing and seeing her you'd understand completely what Mustafa sees in her to make him love her. Robert Gambill may have moments where he pushes at the top, but his technique is secure with surprising moments of flexibility, his voice delicate and beautiful and his presence dashing and credible.
Gunther Von Kannen looks the part of Mustafa and acts with gusto. His voice is a resonant deep bass, that is used very effectively in the Clock Septet. What lets him down however is the "colouratura" register, Già D'Insolito Ardore is a difficult aria in that respect, but I felt that Kannen's colouratura was rather hard on my ears, coming across as bellowing and bluffed. Eric Serra plays Taddeo, a somewhat thankless role, but Serra's witty acting, sonorous baritone and the ability to make Taddeo humorous and appealing makes the character memorable.
Overall, a joy to watch. 9/10 Bethany Cox
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