Wednesday, October 12, 2016

‘L’Italiana in Algeri,’


From left, Ildar Abdrazakov, René Barbera and Marianna Pizzolato in the opera “L’Italiana In Algeri,” at the Metropolitan Opera. CreditSara Krulwich/The New York Times

There came a point during Tuesday’s performance of Rossini’s “L’Italiana in Algeri” at the Metropolitan Opera when I vowed I would stop laughing at the sophomoric spectacle in front of me.
I think it was when the chorus of masked, rubber-bellied eunuchs started whipping a row of twerking harem girls, in sync with the music. I had already cringed at the extravagant black-tufted wigs that covered the chest and back of the bass Ildar Abdrazakov in a scene showing his character, the Algerian bey Mustafà, in his bath. And I had stared, with alarmed bemusement, at Mr. Abdrazakov’s soft-shoeing, air-guitar-playing, floor-pounding performance, which seemed to grow more unhinged as the evening wore on.
But my resolution came to naught. Jean-Pierre Ponnelle’s 1973 staging of this battle of the sexes, framed by Rossini and his librettist as an abduction drama, may be the silliest and most stereotype-laden production in the Met’s repertory. But it’s still very funny — irresistibly so, as I found out.
This revival is conducted by James Levine, making his first appearance in his new role as music director emeritus. He conducted this effervescent music with a steady hand, sure pacing and an eye for instances of opulent instrumental color, which are tucked in among the otherwise briskly efficient score.


Excerpt: 'L'Italiana in Algeri'

James Levine conducts the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra in the Overture of Rossini’s opera.
 By METROPOLITAN OPERA on Publish DateOctober 5, 2016. .

The opera’s female lead is Isabella, a feisty Italian captive who uses charm, wit and mountains of pasta to spring free her lover, Lindoro, who was taken into slavery some months earlier. The vocally challenging Isabella — requiring nimble coloratura and a certain earthiness in the form of a grounded low register — had been planned for the American mezzo-soprano Elizabeth DeShong. But illness forced her to withdraw, leaving the Italian mezzo Marianna Pizzolato to take over, in her Met debut.
The froufrou production, with its over-the-top performances, proved a fine foil for Ms. Pizzolato’s matronly, no-nonsense presence and her dark-toned, coolly assured singing and crystal-clear diction. Marshaling all the matter-of-fact bossiness of an Italian mama, she disarmed the vainglorious Mustafà.
René Barbera, also in his first Met appearance, brought a light, urbane tenor to the role of Lindoro, the somewhat colorless object of Isabella’s affections and intrigue. The suave baritone Nicola Alaimo was almost miscast as the hapless Taddeo, singing with elegance and richness of tone.
The sunny-voiced soprano Ying Fang perfectly inhabited the part of Elvira, Mustafà’s jilted, ditsy wife. The vibrant Canadian-Tunisian mezzo Rihab Chaieb, as Elvira’s slave, Zulma, and the solid baritone Dwayne Croft, as the put-upon pirate captain Haly, offered strong support.
But the evening belonged, for better or worse, to Mr. Abdrazakov. His eye-rolling, pantomiming performance sometimes grew exhausting, but vocally, he remained focused and resonant in every angle and turn of the sometimes preposterous coloratura passages Rossini assigned to him.
At the end of the opera, his character collapses into gluttonous silence. When Mustafà realizes that in the meantime, the Italians have made their escape, there is little left for him to do except throw fistfuls of spaghetti after them.

Opera Review: Rossini’s ‘L’Italiana in Algeri’ at the Metropolitan Opera

Ildar Abdrazakov as Mustafà in Rossini's L'Italiana in Algeri. Photo by Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera.
Ildar Abdrazakov as Mustafà in Rossini’s “L’Italiana in Algeri.” Photo by Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera.
This second week of the Metropolitan Opera’s 2016-2017 season brings the welcome returns of Rossini’s “L’Italiana in Algeri” (“The Italian Girl in Algiers”) and James Levine.  A presence for most of the 50 years that the Met has been at Lincoln Center, Music Director Emeritus Levine was rapturously cheered by the near-capacity audience.  In addition to conducting the silly romantic comedy, he oversaw the impressive debuts of mezzo-soprano Marianna Pizzolato as Isabella, the titular Italian Girl, and American tenor René Barbera as her true love Lindoro.
Rossini depicts the ensuing chaos in innovative ways. 
Returning to the repertory after a 12-year absence, the 1973 Jean-Pierre Ponnelle production doesn’t look dated.  Ponnelle (1932-1988), an innovative director/designer, never shied from questioning content.  Perhaps if the opera was “The French Girl in Algiers,” he would have.  As Rossini wrote the opera in 1813, “L’Italiana” takes place two decades before the French Occupation of Algeria.  Therefore, the dreamy, pastel painted sets and costumes copied from illustrations by nineteenth-century adventurers and fairy tale illustrators are appropriate.  Still, Rossini did make a political statement about Italian unification, which Isabella expresses in “Pensa alla patria” (“Think of your homeland”), front and center.
Isabella’s declaration comes after a wild ordeal.  She, along with the love-struck Taddeo (baritone Nicola Alaimo), are captured after their ship is wrecked on the orders of the Bey Mustafà (bass-baritone Ildar Abdrazakov).  Mustafà isn’t technically interested in treasure, but wants an Italian wife to add to his harem, which includes the loyal Elvira (soprano Ying Fang).  His plan to marry off Elvira to Lindoro (Barbera), another Italian in captivity, so he can marry Isabella is easier to decree than implement…Lindoro is Isabella’s long-lost fiancé!
Rossini depicts the ensuing chaos in innovative ways.  Unlike other Romantic-era composers, his score is never pseudo-Oriental.  The Act 1 finale has each of the main characters expressing their confusion by mimicking clocks ticking.  Lindoro and Taddeo finally dupe Mustafà by initiating him into the Order of Pappatachi, requiring him to “See and not see” – foreshadowing Italian Futurism by a century.
The cast made both excellent singing and stage partners.  Marianna Pizzolato’s Isabella is the smartest, most mature character.  Many of the musical motifs in the “Overture” are sung by Isabella, which Pizzolato did splendidly.  Being her actual “slave,” René Barbera instinctively deferred to her by combining a strong balance of physical comedy, choreography, and the singing of two long arias.  (Unfortunately, a cellphone went off during the first one.)  Even baritone Dwayne Croft, a normally serious artist, let loose as Haly the pirate captain, reveling in chasing Taddeo back and across the stage and being tricked by servants into washing the floor.
The Italian Girl is in the title, but Mustafà is the catalyst.  Ildar Abdrazakov made sure everyone had a good time at his expense.  The only things the Bey is good at is selecting his wardrobe (Doctor Who would envy his fez), dancing, and, of course, singing.  Abdrazakov never stood still and didn’t sacrifice his resonant voice doing so.  A neat acoustics test for aspiring bass-baritones would be if they can yell “Pappatachi,” and then measure it against Abdrazakov’s booming delivery.
Running Time: 3 hours and 15 minutes, including one intermission.
Rossini’s “L’Italiana in Algeri” runs through October 29, 2016 at the Metropolitan Opera.  For more information and tickets, click here.

Rossini’s Comic ‘L’Italiana in Algeri’ at the Met

NEW YORK—The Jean-Pierre Ponnelle production of Rossini’s “L’Italiana in Algeri” (The Italian Girl in Algiers) has been a crowd pleaser at the Metropolitan Opera since 1973. With witty additions by stage director David Kneuss and with music director emeritus James Levine conducting and a fine cast, the opera still delights.
Rossini’s 1813 opera deals with captivity and a rescue, but the resourceful title character is the one who wins freedom for herself and her lover. 
The setting is the seaside palace of the Bey (chieftain) Mustafà in Algiers in the early 19th century. His wife Elvira suspects that her husband’s affection for her has waned and she turns out to be right.
Like many rich and powerful men, he feels he is entitled to trade in his spouse for a newer model, even though he has a harem on the premises to keep him amused. Mustafà decides to marry his wife off to Lindoro, a young Italian man who had been captured by pirates. The ruler orders his henchman Haly to find an attractive Italian woman for him. 
Meanwhile, Lindoro’s lover Isabella is shipwrecked and falls into the clutches of Haly’s band of pirates. The Turks want to sell Isabella’s traveling companion Taddeo into slavery, but he talks them out of it by claiming he is her uncle.
Actually, Taddeo wants Isabella for himself but has not had any success. The pirates decide that Isabella is the right woman for their leader.
Mustafà promises to grant Lindoro his freedom and to allow him to return to Italy if he will take Elvira off Mustafà’s hands. Elvira, in turn, is still in love with her faithless spouse.
The Ponnelle production is old-fashioned in the best sense.
Mustafà is overjoyed when he learns of the captive Italian woman. When the ruler, dubbed “the scourge of women” by his eunuchs, meets Isabella, he is immediately smitten. On her part, she is confident she can outsmart him.
When Isabella is reunited with Lindoro, they have a couple of rocky moments because naturally she thinks he is running off with Elvira.
But the lovers are soon reconciled, and Isabella tells Mustafà that she wants Lindoro to remain as her servant. She also toys with the ruler, making him wait for her and then frustrates him by insisting that Elvira join them for coffee.
Lindoro convinces Mustafà that Isabella desires him but to win her over, he must take part in a ritual in which he eats, drinks, and sleeps while not paying attention to what is going on around him.
The Bey revels in his plate of pasta while the lovers make their getaway.  At the end, Mustafà learns what happened and good naturedly makes peace with Elvira.
The opera begins with a buoyant overture, one of Rossini’s special talents. The cast is up to the musical challenges of Rossini’s music while maintaining a steady stream of laughs.
Portraying Mustafà, Ildar Abdrazakov seems to be having the time of his life as the egotistical womanizer. While the bass has distinguished himself in a wide range of roles at the Met, this one reveals a flair for zany comedy. Some of his funniest moments occur when he isn’t even singing, such as his attempts to fling a bouquet into Isabella’s window. He also excels more demanding singing, as evidenced by his challenging Act I aria, “Gia d’insolito ardore” (An unusual ardor).
Elizabeth DeShong was originally scheduled to play the title character but had to withdraw for health reasons. The Met came up with an excellent replacement, mezzo-soprano Marianna Pizzolato.
The cast is up to the musical challenges of Rossini’s music.
Pizzolato has made a specialty of the part in European opera houses and is at home with the comedy as well the deep feelings that Isabella expresses in her aria “Cruda sorte!” (cruel fate). This is her debut at the Met and she will return in Rossini’s “Guillaume Tell” in November.
Another notable debut was by the romantic lead, American tenor René Barbera, who contributed some of the most impressive singing, with striking high notes.
The effective supporting cast included baritone Nicola Alaimo as Taddeo, soprano Ying Fang as Elvira, mezzo-soprano Rihab Chaieb, as Elvira’s slave, Zulma, and baritone Dwayne Croft, as the pirate captain Haly.
The Ponnelle production is old-fashioned in the best sense. It conveys the composer’s intentions without imposing a visual style that is inconsistent with the content. 
The packed house responded enthusiastically to the performance. Because of the colorful set, visual comedy and bouncy score, “L’Italiana in Algeri” is also a good choice for children, assuming they are old enough to sit through an opera. The Met should consider an abridged version for its Christmas holiday performances.
‘L’Italiana in Algeri’
Metropolitan Opera House 
30 Lincoln Center Plaza
Tickets: 212-362-6000 or
Running Time: 3 hours, 5 minutes
Closes: Oct. 29
Barry Bassis has been a music, theater, and travel writer for over a decade for various publications.


[Met Performance] CID:356494
L'Italiana in Algeri {74} Metropolitan Opera House: 10/12/2016., Broadcastlive on Metropolitan Opera Radio Sirius XM channel 74


Metropolitan Opera House
October 12, 2016 Broadcast

Giaochino Rossini-Angello Anelli/Luigi Mosca

Isabella...................Marianna Pizzolato
Lindoro....................René Barbera
Taddeo.....................Nicola Alaimo
Mustafà....................Ildar Abdrazakov
Elvira.....................Angela Mannino
Zulma......................Rihab Chaieb
Haly.......................Dwayne Croft

Harpsichord................Bryan Wagorn

Conductor..................James Levine

Production.................Jean-Pierre Ponnelle
Designer...................Jean-Pierre Ponnelle
Associate Designer.........David Reppa
Stage Director.............David Kneuss

Broadcast live on Metropolitan Opera Radio Sirius XM channel 74

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