BWW Reviews: HGO's THE ITALIAN GIRL IN ALGIERS Sparkles with Rib-Tickling Whimsy
Houston Grand Opera - Photo by Felix Sanchez." src="http://images.bwwstatic.com/upload10/420766/fsanchez_102412_9733_.jpg" alt="THE ITALIAN GIRL IN ALGIERS. Courtesy of Houston Grand Opera - Photo by Felix Sanchez." width="350" height="239" />Houston Grand Opera is performing Gioachino Rossini's splendid, humorous, and simply delightful L'italiana in Algeri or THE ITALIAN GIRL IN ALGIERS for the first time. Even knowing that comedic operas exist, it is still seems somewhat like a contradiction to this opera novice. With that said, being able to laugh and smile all the through a performance made this production all the more memorable and enjoyable.
Carlo Rizzi, who is consummately energetic and lively, conducts the performance. From the slow, quiet pizzicato basses of the overture to the final notes of the piece, Carlo Rizzi is emphatic and expressive as he leads the pit orchestra and singers through the performance. He works to highlight the comedic styling (or opera buffa) that is inherent in the piece, emphasizing the staccato runs, trills, glissandos, and other techniques that put both the vocalists and pit musicians through musically Olympian feats. The moments that borrow from the "serious" operatic style, or opera seria, are treated reverently as well; yet, it is the comedic and clean delivery of songs like Va sossopra il mio cervello from the conclusion of the first act that leave inedible marks on the audiences' hearts.
Direction by Joan Font is crisp, ensuring each laugh out loud moment works perfectly. His pacing of the production is fluid and only lags in one scene about halfway through the first act. Despite the lag, he cleverly utilizes multiple levels, which makes for a beautiful, multifaceted portrait. The part in question occurs when Haly and his men take Isabella, the Italian Girl, and her admirer, Taddeo, prisoner and they oddly and willingly step into a cage, which is then hoisted about 15 feet above the stage. Thus, the performers float above the stage in the cage for an extended period of time, which allows for the production's energy to stagnate. After this scene, the energy picks back up and stays exuberant through the opera's enthusiastic finale.
As the opera's gullible antagonist, Patrick Carfizzi's Mustafà steals the show. His rich bass instrument is powerfully employed in the production, giving the audience countless memorable and remarkable moments in the show. Patrick Carfizzi has an excellent sense for comedic timing and utilizes his facial expressions to great comedic effect. Likewise, he expertly manipulates his large, cartoonish costume to illustrate Mustafà's sizable ego, causing the audience to chuckle and smile every time he is on stage.
Daniela Barcellona's Isabella is fantastically realized and fully developed. She uses her height as much as she uses her feminine wiles to charm and manipulate the Turks in Algiers, ensuring her machinations go off without a hitch. Her contralto voice is fantastically trained, as she delivers immaculate precise vowels, consonants, and notes. Her soaring rendition of Pensa alla patria, e intrepido should not be missed.
Lawrence Brownlee performed Lindoro, despite injuring a muscle in his leg during a dress rehearsal, with a clarity that made his love for Isabella tangibly leap off the stage, affecting the audience's pathos. His bright tenor instrument shines and sparkles, sending notes spinning and spiraling beautifully to the ears of the audience. His performance of Languir per una bella was one of the show stopping highlights of the night.
As Taddeo, Daniel Belcher is a comedic tour de force. He utilizes wacky bodily movements, especially in Va sossopra il mio cervello. Each of these movements is ingenious and pristinely delivered physical comedy. His characterization is bright through and through, and does not read elderly, like the synopsis states. Regardless of this, Daniel Belcher is nothing short of fun to watch every time he is on stage, especially during the highly amusing song Ho un gran peso sulla testa.
Lauren Snouffer's portrayal of Elvira, Mustafà's wife, Carolyn Sproute's performance as Zulma, Elvira's confidante, and Robert Pomakov's portrayal of Haly, Mustafà's captain of the guard, are all brilliant as well. Each sings with finesse and precision, selling their respective characters to the audience. They each add their own humorous and whimsical elements to the production, which entertain and impress throughout the course of the evening.
Without singing in the production, Caesar F. Barajas captivates and engrosses the audience with his sheer gymnastic ability. Playing a tiger, he spends a great amount of his time on stage crawling around on all fours. Most impressively, as he slinks around the stage with a great feline style, his knees rarely touch the floor. Throughout the evening, he attends to realistic detail, for example miming coughing up a hairball. While he doesn't distract from the other performances, the audience will gladly and joyfully find that they want to periodically let their eyes wander to him for a few extra laughs and giggles.
The large ensemble in the production pulls their weight as well, whether they sing or not. The male chorus that plays both eunuchs and slaves is fantastic and really adds a resounding oomph in the larger numbers. On the other hand, the three concubines, clad entirely in black, provide quirky and enjoyable sight gags, adding a layer of richness to the performance without ever singing a word.
As the opening curtain rose, Joan Guillén's amazing set design and costuming elicited audible gasps from the audience. From vibrant, beautiful costuming that is cartoonish and fun to sets that are wonderfully evocative of Islamic architecture, there is not a single stitch, fabric, or set piece that is not breathtaking and stunning. The use of a paper boat pieces to convey the ship that sinks and brings Isabella and Taddeo to Algiers is a fantastic and capricious touch, which is mirrored in the second act with the ingenious idea of using luggage pieces to create the sailboat that takes the Italians away from Algiers. Furthermore, the use of real sand on the floor is an inspired and well-appreciated choice.
Albert Faura's lighting design is picturesque. He cleverly uses color to complete the cartoonish imagery presented in the set and costuming and to highlight the emotions of the music.
Gioacchino Rossini's THE ITALIAN GIRL IN ALGEIRS, currently running in repertory with Giacomo Puccini's La bohème at Houston Grand Opera, is a fun, rib-tickling opera that is sure to amuse audiences of all ages. From the lavish, bright costuming to the impeccable and impressive vocals of the cast as they fly through staccato runs complete with immaculate enunciation, this production is sure to enthrall and enrapture audiences, while providing a wonderful glimpse into how cosmically different Rossini approaches telling an operatic story to an audience from Puccini.
THE ITALIAN GIRL IN ALGIERS runs through November 11, 2012 at The Wortham Center. For more information and tickets pleases visit http://www.houstongrandopera.org/ or call (713) 228 – 6737.