Reviewed by Sherri Strichman
Disclosure: I love Rossini opera.
So why did it take so long Friday night (Feb. 6) for me to warm up to Tri-Cities Opera’s new production of The Italian Girl in Algiers? The singing was very good. Director Dorothy Danner gave her young and energetic cast a lively staging. The orchestra, led by William Hobbs, ably supported the singers and the drama. Robert Little’s set was attractive and functional, making use of rolling screens to delineate rooms in a palace. The costumes, coordinated by Jana Kucera, were lovely.
Yet somehow I was uneasy with the first act until the last scene. Perhaps it was the frenetic activity in the opening scenes, or the frequent little screams of the harem ladies, or the ubiquitous handkerchief waving, or people jumping (or being thrown) onto the bases of the rolling screens, or the campy movements of the Mustafa (though that’s not actually out of place for this character in this opera). The audience seemed appreciative, though – there was applause; there was laughter.
It would have been funnier in English, rather than using surtitles.
The plot of this opera buffa is typical Rossini: Ships come to grief off the coast of Mustafa’s realm with some regularity, giving him a steady supply of slaves. One of them is Lindoro, who mourns the loss of his freedom and his true love, Isabella. Although Mustafa has an extensive harem and a wife, Elvira, what he really wants is an Italian woman. He is delighted when the next shipwreck brings Isabella to his shores with her “uncle,” Taddeo (another suitor). Mustafa’s first proposal is to Lindoro: “your freedom and my wife” (“take my wife . . . please”). Lindoro is considering how to do this without actually marrying Elvira when he comes face to face with Isabella. Isabella and Lindoro plot to make a fool of Mustafa and escape, assisted by Taddeo. The Italian slaves go home. Mustafa decides he’s better off with Elvira and everyone is happy. Curtain.
Again, as I understand it, most of the singers in this cast are in their 20s. I was impressed by their confidence on stage. As Isabella, Mary Beth Nelson was flirtatious and charming, handling her coloratura with grace. Tenor Rexford Tester was just right as Lindoro. His voice is the right weight to sing the lyric and the coloratura and reach those high notes with ease. Bass-baritones Daniel Noyola (Mustafa) and Jake Stamatis (Taddeo) displayed many shades of vocal color, acting with their voices as well as their bodies. The other principals – Rebecca Heath (Elvira), Meaghan Heath (Zulma) and Steven Stull (Ali) – also were pleasant to hear and watch. The chorus members (prepared by Michael Lewis) sounded great but sang best when they were allowed to stand still.
It was during the septet and finale of Act I that I perked up and began enjoying the performance. The singing and staging both were very fine. Act II was quite funny, particularly the work with the rolling screens as Isabella flirted with all three of the men in her life; the famous “Pappatacci” (eat and don’t talk) trio and the induction of Mustafa into the Order of Pappatacci.
All in all, is it worth seeing? Yes.
IF YOU GO: The second and final performance of Italian Girl will be at 3 p.m. Sunday (Feb. 8) at The Forum, 236 Washington St., Binghamton. A talk-back session with some members of the cast and creative staff will begin 15 minutes after the closing curtain. For tickets, call 772-0400. The Forum box office will open at 12:30 p.m..