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BWW Review: On the Road to ALGIERI with Rossini's L'ITALIANA at the Met

L to R: Ying Fang, Rene Barbera, Dwayne Croft,
Marianna Pizzolatto, Ildar Abdrazakov, Rihab Chaieb,
Nicola Alaimo. Photo: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera.

In 1973, when the Met's production of Rossini's L'ITALIANA IN ALGIERI--THE ITALIAN GIRL IN ALGIERS--made its debut [in the opera's first Met performance in more than a half century], it must have seemed a welcome laugh riot. Think of it as a kind of "Road" picture from the '40s, with the great mezzo Marilyn Horne as a kind of Bob Hope-Bing Crosby-Dorothy Lamour all rolled into one, but with those amazing roulades and fabulous, booming bass-like low notes. Flip forward 43 years to last week, and the world has changed much--for better and worse--but the same "Road to Algiers" keeps rolling along. Thank heavens for that.

With its spectacular and devilishly tricky music, Rossini's score calls for a cast of brilliant musicians with a great sense of humor and there were quite a few of them on view for the opera's revival last week. Maestro James Levine kept them on their toes, with a rapid-paced take on the score that showed off the Met orchestra at its best (bravo to harpsichordist Bryan Wagorn), while challenging the singers' breath-control. Happily, they were up to the task.

Start off with debutant tenor Rene Barbera, with the easy high notes to assure that he'll be back again sooner rather than later; I think he's still trying to figure out just how much voice he needs to fill this barn of a hall, but that's a minor quibble in a laid-back, charming portrayal of the Girl's boy. The "heavy" of the piece--but with broad comic movement and a booming bass-baritone--was Ildar Abdrazakov, as Mustafa, the Bey of Algiers. He was (very) heavy on camp but that could be forgiven when the role was sung as well as this.

As Isabella, the title role, mezzo Marianna Pizzolato saved the day (in this case, the entire run) when the original performer called in sick, presenting a lively characterization and authentic Italian charm in her Met debut. If her voice seemed a size too small for the Met, she nonetheless delivered a well-sung portrayal with more than enough spunk to keep the action in motion--and to show who's boss. The young soprano, Ying Fang (someone that opera cognoscenti justifiably have their eyes on) showed off her silvery voice to fine effect as the Bey's scorned wife, Elvira, while Rihab Chaieb made a notable contribution, using her earthy mezzo very well as the servant, Zulma.

Nicely rounding out the principals were Met stalwart baritone Dwayne Croft as Haly, the master of the guard, and Nicola Alaimo, another baritone, as Isabella's suitor, Taddeo, in another shtick-laden performance.

After all these years, the genial production by director Jean Pierre Ponnelle (who also designed the sets and costumes) continues, amazingly, to look in good shape, from the days when the Met's directors still acted as if they liked opera. It would be nice, though, if some of the xenophobic aspects could be toned down (e.g., all the members of the guard looking identical, with matching faces and bellies). Nonetheless, L'ITALIANA was a welcome addition to the young season--a swift-moving, giddy performance that the audience happily ate up.


Additional performances of L'ITALIANA are on October 12, 15eve, 20, 22eve, 26, 29eve. Curtain times vary: complete schedule here.

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From This Author Richard Sasanow

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