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, believes her the ideal replacement for his neglected wife who he intends to marry off to a captured slave, who happens to be Lindoro. Complicated situations ensue 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.
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.
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.
A studio recording made in association with staged performances in Vienna in 1989 features the very beefy Vienna Philharmonic conducted by Abbado with Agnes Baltsa’s tangy mezzo giving a very characterful portrayal as Isabella. …[E]xpert Rossinians Corbelli and Enzo Dara sing Haly and Taddeo and are joined by a very characterful Ruggero Raimondi as Mustafa. Despite the size of the band, the performance goes along with zip with the finale of act one particularly invigorating.–Robert J. Farr
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.
“Horne is the great star focus…She is predictably brilliant in the coloratura passages, with her commanding presence not getting in the way of a sense of fun…The production by Jean-Pierre Ponnelle is brightly attractive, and the direction is at the service of the performance. Levine conducts with characteristic energy.” Penguin Guide
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