Even by the standards of Rossini comedies The Italian Girl in Algiers is a bit daft. Mustafà, bey of Algiers, is tired of his wife and plans to get rid of her by marrying her off to his Italian servant Lindoro. He wants an Italian girl because well squire, nudge nudge. He instructs his sidekick and commander of the galleys Haly to procure one or be impaled (a somewhat pointed joke that runs through the piece). He shows up with Isabella and her sidekick Taddeo. Isabella just happens to be Lindoro’s squeeze. She immediately starts to plot their escape and persuades Mustafà that to succeed with Italian girls he must become a Pappatacci which involves eating enormous amounts of food and not getting upset when his beloved gets off with other men. With Mustafà in a pasta induced near coma the lovers escape and Mustafà reconciles with his wife. Got that?
Just as Rossini’s version of Il barbiere di Siviglia completely eclipsed Paisiello’s version, so Verdi’s Otello sounded the death knell for an earlier version; ironically enough by Rossini. It’s a bit surprising as the Rossini version is not bad at all despite having a rather patchy libretto and being hard to cast. The first thing one notices is that the story isn’t even close to Shakespeare/Verdi. This is because the libretto was based on a French play by Jean-François Ducis that was popular in the 18th century. I don’t know whether the plot’s weaknesses are due to Ducis or the librettist but there are a few. There’s no Cassio so the motivation for Jago’s plotting is unclear. All the Venetian notables (bar perhaps the Doge) hate Otello but Jago doesn’t seem to have any special reason for animosity. Between the end of Act 2 and the beginning of Act 3 Otello is exiled. There is no explanation. The finale is abrupt and weak. Immediately after Otello kills Desdemona the gang of notables burst in to the room and appear to be completely reconciled to Otello and to him marrying Desdemona, despite having spent the rest of the opera chewing chips about this. In fact one could argue that the happy ending variant (yes, there was one) is the more plausible as it would only take the guys to arrive about ten bars sooner for that to be the logical outcome. As it is, Otello listens with incredulity to the change of heart and, not unreasonably, kills himself.
Rossini’s Aureliano in Palmira is a rarity for a whole host of reasons. There’s no definitive edition. Many of the extant scores have much easier versions of the main arias for the tenor titular character. Quite a bit of the music was reused for Il barbiere di Siviglia, often in ways that seem quite odd after hearing it in its original context. Finally, the plot is a bit thin. Not that that usually worries bel canto aficianados.
Well yesterday’s MYOpera season launch party was a blast with a very competitive game of what we are not allowed to call Jeopardy. Apart from being a fund raiser the real purpose was to announce the company’s 2017 show. It’s going to be Rossini’s L’italiana in Algeri. There will be three performances in the Aki Studio at the Daniels Spectrum; April 28 at 7:30 pm, April 29 at 4:30 pm and April 30 at 2:30 pm. Casting yet to be announced.
Rossini’s La Donna del Lago is based on the Walter Scott poem, itself a deliberately romantic view of Scottish history, simplified until not much is left but the rivalry for the heroine’s hand by her three suitors and a completely unexplained war between the king of Scotland and the Clan Alpine. Dramatically it’s thin indeed but it’s Rossini so there is crazy virtuosic music and it’s very hard to cast. One needs two mezzos; one a mistress of Rossinian coloratura, the other more dramatic, and two tenors; both of which can do the crazy high stuff. The supporting roles aren’t easy either. Realistically only a major house could cast this adequately.
Rossini’s last opera, Guillaume Tell, was written for Paris and is an extremely ambitious piece of great musical sophistication. It’s also very long. Performed uncut, a rarity, it runs something like four hours including ballets. It’s also hard to cast with the role of Arnold Melcthal in particular making unusual demands. It’s a high tenor role combining the flexibility needs of a typical Rossini role with something much more heroic. The soprano role of Mathilde has some of the same issues; signature Rossini coloratura is combined with the sort of dramatic heft one might more associate with early Wagner.
Just back from a second look at the COC’s production of Rossini’s Maometto II. This time I was sitting on the orchestra level and a bit closer which helps with this production. Basic impressions remain the same as opening night; great singing, visually spectacular, but I did have some additional, and related, thoughts about both the libretto and the production.