Pesaro's new offering in 2013 was an off-the-wall production of Rossini's popular comedy, ‘The Italian Girl in Algiers', presented as a Swinging Sixties, James Bond adventure, set in the desert oil fields of the North African coast. Davide Livermore's gag-a-minute, helter-skelter romp followed an alarmingly life-like air-crash, which delivered the ‘Italian girl' from Rome into the clutches of the local oil baron, Mustafa. All three lead singers (Alex Esposito as Mustafa, the high tenor Yijie Shi as the young lover Lindoro, and Anna Goryachova as the agile-voiced mezzo-soprano of the title role) thoroughly distinguished themselves – and the audience roared its approval of the evening's entertainment.
Aureliano in Palmira celebrated its fi rst première on 26 December 1813 at the Scala In Milan. Soon afterwards the work was played in different theatres all over Europe. Nevertheless Rossini’s piece fell into oblivion more and more compared to the great competitors like “Tancredi” or the “Barber of Seville” for which Rossini recycled musical parts of “Aureliano”. But since a few years there are ambitions to play this work about love, war, jealousy, loyalty and magnanimity more frequently.
Dressing Rossini's Ciro in Babilonia up as a silent movie sounds like a bit of an arbitrary or frivolous choice, but there's no denying that Davide Livermore's production does at least inject some life into Rossini's otherwise stodgy Biblical drama. I was going to say "inject some colour" into the work, but since the colour scheme here is primarily black-and-white, that doesn't seem appropriate, particularly when all the colour the work needs is already there in the detail of Rossini's writing for the singers, and that hasn't been neglected here either. Singing and staging combined in this way, the impact achieved for this particular Rossini work - one that would unlikely ever be considered as one of the composer's greats - is simply tremendous. This is another coup for the Rossini Opera Festival in Pesaro…
Rossini might have dressed his opera in biblical garb, but it is still a story of the conflict of love and patriotic duty that had become the basis of Italian opera. That the plight of the Jews in Egypt is a mirror image of all that is happening today in the Middle East has sparked director, Graham Vick, to think afresh about the opera, the enclosed booklet delving into his thought process, as the present day political and religious leaders use ordinary people as pawns to satisfy their own personal agenda for power. In its original form the Egyptian Pharoh’s son, Osiride, falls in love with the Israelite girl, Elcia and that is about to come to an end when the Pharoh is minded to give the Israelites their freedom to leave Egypt. Now he has to reverse that decision to keep his loved one in Egypt by all means possible…David’s Review Corner
Recordings of Rossini’s first full-length comic opera are coming thick and fast at present. Already this year Sony has re-issued, in the Opera House series, their 1979 recording featuring Lucia Valentini-Terrani. There is also a new live recording for review from Naxos. Recorded at Bad Wildbad in 2008 it features the new tenor find Lawrence Brownlee, making waves in Rossini at New York’s Metropolitan, alongside the admired Italian diva Marianna Pizzolato in the title role; Rossini scholar and conductor Alberto Zedda is on the rostrum.
Robert J Farr
This is the best orchestration of this opera: The best brilliant one, the most exciting recording. But is so fast in moments when the singers should have a little freedom to demonstrate their virtuosism. The Scimone, with Ramey and Horne, recording do that, and the little video of Weikert, with Doris Soffel. The recitatives are cold, Baltsa only shows her power in the Rondo "Pensa alla Patria", Dara is not too afraid in his aria "Ho un gran pesso", etc. Only Lopardo and Raimondi are fenomenal, being Raimondi the best Mustafà in the aria "Gia d'insolito" i ever heard. But, don't be wrong, if it doesn't have virtuosism, it is the best recording (i'm not say that, everybody does it).
Rossini's wonderful comic opera, written when he was only 21, to an Italian libretto by Angelo Anelli, was first performed in Venice on May 22, 1813. Since then audiences have thrilled to such mezzos as Teresa Berganza and Marilyn Horne, in the title role of Isabella, the Italian girl who torments the Pasha into loving his own wife. Here rising star Christianne Stotijn, a BBC Young Generation Artist, moves into new repertoire in this production from Aix-en Provence, 2006, conducted by Rossini specialist Riccarda Frizza and directed by Toni Servillo.
Arthaus presents a production of Rossini’s L’Italiana in Algeri by renowned opera stage director Andrei Serban and conducted by Bruno Campanella from the prestigious Opéra National de Paris.
The excellent cast of singer-actors was led by international mezzo-star Jennifer Larmore who, with her unaffected contact with the audience, beautiful voice and excellent acting, is central to this staging. The American singer has acquired a reputation as a Rossini specialist, and is no stranger to inventive stagings of the composer’s comedies…
The Biblical story of Belshazzar’s hubristic arrogance set against the valour of the young warrrior-leader Cyrus provided the 20-year-old Rossini with a dramatic story with West-Eastern resonances which still speak to us today. For the title role of Cyrus, Rossini wrote what would be his longest-ever contralto role, to which the great Rossini singer Ewa Podles is both naturally attracted and ideally suited. She is partnered by two young American stars of Rossini singing, Jessica Pratt and Michael Spyres, and a conductor-scholar, Will Crutchfield, of immense experience and sympathy.