Rossini Opera Festival (2):Would You Want This Tough Italian Girl?
ROF (2)Rossini, L’Italiana in Algeri. Chorus and Orchestra of Teatro Comunale di Bologna. Chorus Master, Andrea Faidutti, Conductor, José Ramon Encinar. Staging by Davide Livermore. Sets and Projections by Nicolas Bovey with D:WOK video design. Costumes by Gianluca Falaschi. Teatro Rossini, Pesao 16-08-2013 (JB)
Mustafa -Alex Esposito
Elvira –Mariangel Sicilia
Zulma –Raffaella çupinacci
Haly –Davide Luciano
Lindoro – Yijhe Shi
Isabella –Anna Goryachova
Taddeo –Mario Gassi
L’Italiana in Algeri is probably the finest operatic comedy still performed today. Why? Comedy is subtler than farce and it is in just such subtleties that Rossini scores higher than any other, not least in the musical characterisations of his three main characters.
The Italian girl herself is distinguished by her vocal charm. And by her irony. Of course, Rosina in Barbiere has charm, but not to the same degree as Isabella: this Girl is purposeful and has even been used (mistakenly in my view) as an agent of feminism.
Knowingly or unknowingly, most memorable performances of Isabella have been modelled on Conchita Supervia’s unparalleled vocal charm. But by that measurement, even the greats of today –say Daniela Barcellona or Joyce Di Donato- fall short.
Anna Goryachova –probably aided and abetted by Davide Livermore- doesn’t put herself forward for this measurement. Vocal charm is sent to hell. This Isabella has such determination, your hair stands on end. When she began Crude sorti, the foundations of the theatre shook. Hers is a rare, rich, mellifluous, contralto voice, surprisingly small in size, but with every note perfectly placed and almost threateningly expressive. The trouble is that with charm out of the window, the irony disappears too. And that, to my ear, is a big part of Rossini’s character drawing. Even in her second act aria –Per lui che adoro– she was still asserting herself as though her life depended on it. And by this time, she was reduced to a bikini! Very beautiful she was too. And nimble of movement. But Rossini, I fear, had not been well served.
Lindoro is not the most ambitious of Rossini’s creations. In fact he is little more than the stock in trade heroic, bel canto tenor. But his creator has been careful enough to endow him with charm. On the charm score, Yijhe Shi delivers well. It is an integral part of his vocal makeup. He is also handsome and as nimble as a flea in the considerable choreography which Livermore requires of him. His diction is perfection and so is his intonation. The downside is his vocal delivery: the technique is there but misplaced: his voice sounds somewhere between throaty and strangulated. But don’t listen to me. The predominantly Italian audience adored him. As I indicated, his conviction carries him. It just goes to show that audiences can live without the sheer beauty of tone of say, Alfredo Kraus, which was for some of was sorely absent in Shi’s Languir per una bella -one of Rossini’s most moving tenor arias.
But the greatest applause was rightly reserved for Alex Esposito’s Mustafà. And what a colourful role Rossini hands him: authoritative, mischievous, dignified, scheming, solemn, jokesy. –Esposito slips in and out of all of them with immaculate precision and athletic accomplishment of movement. Not too many bassi buffi can appear successfully in beach shorts. But Esposito does, a crown in his hugely impressive delivery.
I should mention Davide Luciano’s (Haly) excellent singing of Le femine d’Italia– another basso buffo triumph. Watch that name.
Anyone lucky enough to have seen last year’s ROF Ciro in Babylonia or the 2012 Demetrio e Polibio, will already know the wisdom and wit of Davide Livermore’s Rossini stagings. Here again, he is sure handed –even, and maybe especially, when I am not in agreement, like, for instance, his ideas about Isabella. But who am I? A mere scribbler. Mr Livermore’s touch is so convincing, and for the most part, so much in the Rossini spirit, that it would convert an atheist to Catholicism.
During the overture –one of Rossini’s best known and beautifully paced by the conductor, José-Ramon Encinar- Livermore mad use of Nicolas Bovey’s witty projections which owe much to comic strips and commercials on such matters as how to cook your pasta or apply your lipstick. Rossini would have adored it.
Moreover, throughout the show, Livermore has used a nineteen-twenties Paris cabaret style choreography with stiff bodies and sharp hip, shoulder and knee jerks or twists, always rhythmically responding to Rossini’s music. The actors are drilled to perfection, which ups the comedy.
Maestro Encinar was also a considerate accompanist of his singers, ever mindful of some of them not having very big voices.