Opera Scotland

Italian Girl in Algiers L'Italiana in Algeri

Music
Gioachino Rossini (born Pesaro, 29 February 1792; died Paris, 13 November 1868).

Text
Angelo Anelli (written for Luigi Mosca, performed at La Scala, Milan in 1808).

Source
Original.

Premieres
First performance: Venice (Teatro San Benedetto), 22 May 1813.
First UK performance: London (His Majesty’s Theatre, Haymarket), 26 January 1819.
First performance in Scotland: Edinburgh (Theatre Royal), 8 May 1838.
Scottish Opera premiere: Glasgow (Theatre Royal), 21 October 2009.

Background
Rossini came from a family of musicians, and his talent was recognised when still a child. His operas, both serious and comic, dominated the operatic world throughout his active career, which lasted twenty years from 1810. It is the eleventh of Rossini’s operas (he eventually composed around forty).

The Italian Girl was an instant success in spite of being prepared at short notice and adapting an old text. In the early 19th century, Barbary pirates were still a serious problem for sea traders and for coastal towns in parts of Italy. The abduction and enslavement of Europeans therefore seems an unlikely subject for farcical humour, though Mozart showed the way with his Seraglio of 1782. Rossini has the chorus of eunuchs sung by tenors and basses. In addition, the idea of Italian patriotism was also problematic, with the north of Italy still to be under Austrian control for many years.

Characters
Mustafà, Bey of Algiers (bass)
Elvira, his wife (soprano)
Zulma, her companion (mezzo-soprano)
Haly, a pirate captain in Mustafà’s service (bass)
Lindoro (tenor)
Isabella (mezzo-soprano)
Taddeo, her companion (baritone)

Plot Summary
Mustafà is tired of his wife and wants to find a new Italian bride. Lindoro, a young Italian, has been captured and is working as a slave for Mustafà. He has become something of a favourite. He laments his separation from his lover, Isabella. Mustafà suggests he should marry Elvira and take her to Italy.

More European prisoners arrive, among them an Italian Girl. This is Isabella, who has set out to rescue Lindoro. She has with her Taddeo, who wants to marry her, but agrees to pose as her uncle meantime. Mustafà falls for Isabella at first sight and she flirts with him. When Lindoro, Elvira and Zulma come to say their farewells they meet Isabella. The first act ends in complete confusion, with one of Rossini’s craziest inventions.

The second act continues the farcical activity as Isabella and Lindoro plot their escape, along with the other Italian captives. Elvira is re-united with Mustafà.

RECORDINGS

TELDEC (2 CDs) Sung in Italian Recorded 1997

Conductor: Jésus Lopez-Cobos
Lausanne Chamber Orchestra
Jennifer Larmore (Isabella), Raúl Giménez (Lindoro), John del Carlo (Mustafà).

An excellent modern recording, stylishly conducted. Jennifer Larmore is one of the leading American mezzos singing the Rossini repertoire at the moment. Many of the best Rossinian tenors in recent years have come from Latin America, and Argentinian Raúl Giménez sails through the high-lying lines with ease.

SONY (2 CDs) Sung in Italian Recorded 1984

Conductor: Gabriele Ferro
Capella Coloniensis
Lucia Valentini-Terrani (Isabella), Francisco Araiza (Lindoro), Wladimiro Ganzarolli (Mustafà).

Lucia Valentini-Terrani was that rare thing, a real Italian who also had a fine sense of Rossinian style. She delights in the rapid-fire language. Her early death from leukaemia was a tragic loss. Araiza, a Mexican this time, has no problems with the high line, and gives no indication that his voice would develop (briefly) in a Wagnerian direction. Ganzarolli is a born comedian. This recording was an early attempt to play Rossini on original instruments and Ferro is generally a natural conductor.

ERATO (2 CDs) Sung in Italian Recorded 1980

Conductor: Claudio Scimone
I Solisti Veneti
Marilyn Horne (Isabella), Ernesto Palacio (Lindoro), Samuel Ramey (Mustafa).

Horne featured in many important revivals of Rossini’s serious operas, but was able to lighten her touch successfully when she sang the comedies, having particular success as Isabella. Palacio is noted now as the teacher of his fellow-Peruvian Juan Diego Flórez, but he was a notable performer in revivals of little-known Rossini and Handel works. Ramey’s long career covered nearly every possible style of singing except perhaps Wagner, and his technique sounds unusually effortless for a bass.

DECCA (2 CDs) Sung in Italian Recorded 1963

Conductor: Silvio Varviso
Orchestra of the Maggio Musical Fiorentino
Teresa Berganza (Isabella), Luigi Alva (Lindoro), Fernando Corena (Mustafà).

This recording dates from a time when only a handful of Rossini’s operas were known, and it did much to restore the Italian Girl to the general repertoire. Varviso conducts delicately and the soloists were the leading performers of the day. Berganza always sounds lovely as well as characterful. Alva (another Peruvian) was the dominant Rossini tenor for twenty years, and is at his peak here. Corena also projects plenty of humour.

The Cast

Elvira
 wife of Mustafà
Haly
 a corsair captain in Mustafà's service
Isabella
 the Italian Girl
Lindoro
 Mustafà's Italian slave
Mustafà
 Bey of Algiers
Taddeo
 Isabella's companion
Zulma
 Elvira's companion

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