This page was last updated on: June 3, 2006
L'italiana in Algeri, Washington National Opera, May 2006
Juan Diego Flórez as Lindoro in L'italiana in Algeri
Washington National Opera, May 2006
'L'Italiana in Algeri': Tour De Force, The Washington Post, 15 May 2006
Juan Diego Flórez electrifica a la ópera de Washington, EFE, 15 May 2006
L'Italiana' regales house, The Washington Times, May 15, 2006
An opera that's a laugh riot, The Baltimore Sun, 18 May 2006
Italian Girl Delights, ConcertoNet, May 2006 [external link]
'L'Italiana in Algeri': Tour De Force
Tim Page, The Washington Post, 15 May 2006
Washington National Opera's production of Gioacchino Rossini's "L'Italiana in Algeri," which opened Saturday night at the Kennedy Center, is a smashing success -- three hours of beautiful and ceaselessly inventive music, brilliantly cast and played, shot through with giddy joy. Anybody who wants to behold what this company is capable of should attend one of the seven remaining performances, for the production likely will be talked about for many years.
Because of a longstanding cultural tendency to equate seriousness with profundity, we have only begun to take the full measure of Rossini. For me, he is among the greatest of all musical geniuses -- a unique and universal master who is simply not to be spoken of in the same breath as Bellini and Donizetti, the two very fine composers to whom he traditionally is compared.
No other creator could have invented the first-act finale of "Italiana," when the action spins gloriously out of control and language is no longer sufficient to express the loopy feelings of the characters, who are reduced (or maybe elevated) to rapid-fire onomatopoeia -- "ding! ding!" and "cra! cra!" and "tac! tac!" and that perennial favorite "boom boom boom boom boom boom boom!"
If the Three Stooges' Curly had written an opera libretto, it might have gone something like this. It is dada 100 years before dada was invented. But it is better than dada, for it is less an easy mockery of convention than a gleeful parallel universe, one stocked with great tunes. It is difficult to believe that this supremely assured comic opera was composed in less than a month -- the work of a man who had just passed his 21st birthday.
Forget about the plot, which is silly in the extreme but suffices as a launching pad for Rossini's score. (Nineteenth-century Europeans set operas in such distant lands as Africa and Turkey in rather the same way science-fiction writers used to set their stories on Mars, and with much the same understanding.) WNO has revived a production by the late Jean-Pierre Ponnelle (last staged here in February 1998) that is attractive enough, with sandy hues and storybook castles. But it is the casting that makes this "Italiana" so memorable. It is remarkably even across the board, with no letdowns by anyone.
Still, as usual in an opera with two star roles, two singers have to be more equal than others. Mezzo-soprano Olga Borodina is a splendid, earthy and dynamic Isabella. At her not-infrequent best, she calls to mind Marilyn Horne in her prime, her huge, deep voice imbued with the richness of dark chocolate. Moreover, she has fun with her virtuosity: It is as though her breath control, her command of coloratura and her opulent sound were all terrific playthings that she loved to show off for others, especially those who have come to cheer.
Juan Diego Florez, in the role of Lindoro, spins out his melodies in a high, sweet and unfailingly elegant tenor voice. This is music of fearsome difficulty but it must never sound difficult. Florez tosses it off as if it were child's play, and he proves a dashing actor as well.
As Elvira, soprano Lyubov Petrova is more than capable of exploring the stratosphere of the role's high notes. Leslie Mutchler is a deft, funny and attractive Zulma. Ildar Abdrazakov has just the right sort of woolly bass voice and innate sense of absurdity for the role of Mustafa, and Bruno de Simone makes an ardent and amusing Taddeo. Valeriano Lanchas's adept, all-knowing portrayal of Haly rounds out the cast.
The Washington National Opera Orchestra and Chorus have become ever more disciplined and reliable, to the point where they are among the best house ensembles in the nation -- an accomplishment that would have seemed impossible only a decade ago. Riccardo Frizza's conducting is sure and idiomatic: He provides solid support for the singers, balances the ensembles impeccably and takes a convincing lead in the purely orchestral passages.
We hear a lot about a supposed line of demarcation between high art and pure entertainment. "L'Italiana in Algeri," to its eternal, crazy glory, gives us both.
El peruano Juan Diego Flórez electrifica a la ópera de Washington
César Muñoz Acebes, EFE, 15 May 2006
La voz dúctil del peruano Juan Diego Flórez se paseó por las paredes acolchadas del Centro Kennedy y se ganó bravos ya desde su primer aria en "L'italiana in Algeri", en su debut con la Opera Nacional de Washington.
Flórez se siente cómodo en "La italiana en Argelia", una ópera cómica que Gioacchino Rossini compuso cuando tenía tan sólo 21 años, porque el papel de Lindoro se adapta a él como un guante. "Esta ópera es sobre todo vocal, es una ópera de dos grandes arias, muy agudas, muy para mi voz", dijo Flórez a Efe en una entrevista previa a la actuación. Será su tono, pero la interpretación no es fácil y de ahí quizá venga parte del cariño que le tiene a la obra Flórez, quien a sus 33 años es uno de los tenores jóvenes más famosos del mundo.
El limeño superó los desafíos lanzados por Rossini, incluida el aria inicial, de ocho minutos, con una voz clara y sincera, una vocalización soberbia y una ornamentación exquisita. Flórez deleitó al público con dificultades abrazadas por su propia iniciativa, ya que interpretó "Concedi amor pietoso", una segunda aria que no fue la que escucharon los asistentes al Teatro San Benedetto de Venecia el 22 de mayo de 1813, cuando se estrenó esta ópera. Rossini había encargado ese aria a un asistente para tener lista la ópera a tiempo, pero para una puesta en escena posterior en el teatro de L'Scala, compuso su propia versión, de la que huyen muchos tenores por su complejidad.
No así Flórez. "Siempre trato de hacer este aria, que es musicalmente superior y vocalmente también más impresionante", explicó. Además de sus posibilidades vocales, "La italiana en Argelia" satisface la afinidad de este tenor ligero por la ópera bufa. "Creo que tengo una vena cómica natural, en el escenario sobre todo, hago reír y me divierto haciéndolo", confesó. "En la vida real no pienso ser muy divertido ni muy cómico". Así, una vez más se transformó en payaso en el palco y encandiló a un público que rio con ganas sus pasos de ballet en momentos de felicidad y sus saltos de rana en instantes de confusión. Los combinó con una agilidad física juguetona, que le llevó a correr y a saltar las escaleras del ilusorio palacio del mandatario de Argelia, y que arrebató exclamaciones de deleite de los hombres de corbata o pajarita, así como a las mujeres de vestido largo que le observaban.
No obstante, el papel más gracioso en la obra es el "bey", o emir turco Mustafá, a quien sus siervos le llaman el "domador de mujeres", y el bajo ruso Idar Abdrazakov aprovechó sus posibilidades con desparpajo. "La italiana" es una comedia sobre el tema universal de la relación de poder entre hombres y mujeres, y claramente quien se lleva la palma es el sexo femenino. Mustafá está cansado de su mujer Elvira (la soprano Lyubov Petrova) y, para quitársela de encima, decide casarla con su esclavo Lindoro, un italiano que había sido capturado por sus piratas. Al mismo tiempo, los ojos le hacen chiribitas por una italiana. Por fortuna, un barco italiano sufre un naufragio cerca de la costa y pone en sus manos a Isabella, que ha embarcado en busca de su amor Lindoro.
Isabella fue la mezzo-soprano Olga Borodina, alta y fuerte, y quien dio vida a una mujer determinada y artera. Además de Mustafá y Lindoro, alrededor de ella gira otro hombre, Taddeo, el más débil de todos, que la acompañaba en su viaje y se hace pasar por su tío, aunque en realidad es su amante. Gracias a sus encantos e inteligencia, Isabella pronto tiene a Mustafá comiendo en su mano y organiza la fuga de todos los esclavos italianos del bey, mientras sus soldados se emborrachan. Tras su partida, el turco pide perdón a Elvira y declara que las muchachas italianas no son para él. Un final feliz.
L'Italiana' regales house
Kelly Jane Torrance, The Washington Times, May 15, 2006
The Washington National Opera's production of Rossini's "L'Italiana in Algeri" is bawdy, farcical and over the top. And Saturday's opening night audience at the Kennedy Center Opera House ate it up.
Jean-Pierre Ponnelle's 1973 production, here directed by David Kneuss, plays Rossini as burlesque. Sexual innuendo runs rampant, culminating in a somewhat shocking scene in which an apparently naked girl runs out of a sultan's bathtub.
Garnering the most laughs was Ildar Abdrazakov, who played the Algerian bey Mustafa. Mustafa is sick of his wife and decides to marry her off to Lindoro, an Italian captured when he was shipwrecked off Algiers a few months earlier. The sultan's wife, Elvira, has her charms, but Lindoro's heart already belongs to another.
Imagine Lindoro's surprise when his Italian beloved is captured by Mustafa after her ship goes down.
Isabella had been searching for the missing Lindoro, but shows up just as Mustafa decides that only a feisty Italian woman will relieve his boredom with his harem. Hijinks ensue as the confident Isabella sets out to break the bey known far and wide as a master tamer of women.
Mr. Abdrazakov, one of three Russians in the cast, has a fine bass, but it was his dramatics that won the audience's heart. No one seemed to mind how ludicrous he appeared. In fact, they couldn't stop laughing at the lumbering lothario who seemed to borrow more from Saturday Night Live's "wild and crazy guys" than any operatic tradition.
His wife, mezzo-soprano Olga Borodina, played the Italian girl of the title. Her acting was tamer, but no less memorable. Isabella is one of the juiciest roles in opera buffa.
"The Italian girl speaks her mind," Elvira notes with admiration. "She's smarter than all the others."
To Mustafa -- and many of the men in Rossini's time -- women were meant to be ruled by men. Isabella declares she can make any man her slave. And instead of lampooning such a grand statement, Rossini has her triumph, even over a grand sultan.
Miss Borodina, who can carry off dramatic roles such as Dalila (whom she played last season in her WNO debut) as well as Rossini bel canto, could hardly have been better cast. She has incredible stage presence, stealing every scene in which she appeared. Mr. Ponnelle's costumes gave her an added dignity.
But even her widely admired voice couldn't compete with that of Juan Diego Florez, who played Lindoro. The 33-year-old Peruvian tenor made his WNO debut Saturday night, and let's hope it's the start of a long relationship. Mr. Florez has it all -- an impressively agile, gorgeous voice, acting chops and an ease with the stage. Mr. Abdrazakov may have had the audience in stitches, but it is Mr. Florez's voice that they'll remember.
An opera that's a laugh riot
Tim Smith, The Baltimore Sun, 18 May 2006
Rossini's comic 'L'italiana in Algeri' is a witty joy with Florez leading an all-star cast
If you threw I Love Lucy, The Carol Burnett Show and a few Milton Berle routines together, and set the whole thing to music, you might come up with something as amusing and deliciously implausible as Rossini's L'italiana in Algeri - The Italian Girl in Algiers.
Almost two centuries after its premiere, L'italiana still packs enough humor to amuse sitcom-saturated audiences, while the sheer genius of the score, with its wonderfully wiggly vocal lines and sparkling orchestration, never fails to tickle the ear.
For the final entry in its memorable 50th anniversary season, Washington National Opera is offering a delectable staging of this comic gem, powered by a starry cast and propulsive direction. The finishing touch is the look of the production, designed by the late Jean-Pierre Ponnelle, whose sets and costumes manage to fuse sumptuousness and subtlety.
As is the case with the company's concurrently running presentation of Mozart's La clemenza di Tito, this L'italiana deserves that overused marketing tag "world class," since I don't think you would likely find a better cast for either work anywhere today.
The Rossinian storm of technical and stylistic flair emanating from the stage and the orchestra pit of the Kennedy Center Opera House is very much a team effort. But extra attention cannot help but be paid to Juan Diego Florez, the lively Peruvian tenor who has become the darling of press and public alike.
Florez enjoys a triumph as the hapless Lindoro, Italian prisoner of the ludicrous Mustafa, bey of Algiers. His bright, extraordinarily flexible voice, ideal for Rossini, executes coloratura flurries and nails high notes so effortlessly that you almost forget how difficult this music is just to articulate, let alone make expressive and meaningful.
And he bounds all over the stage, sometimes making Astaire-worthy twirls and leaps, with the same confidence he displays in action-packed melodic lines, creating a most likable character.
In the title role of Lindoro's beloved Isabella, Russian mezzo Olga Borodina brings her own set of considerable vocal and theatrical assets to the cause. Her burgundy tone, assured coloratura, volumes-speaking facial expressions and some funny physical comedy add up to quite a bundle.
Ildar Abdrazakov revels in the role of Mustafa, whose determination to exchange his own wife for an Italian provides the plot seed for the opera. The Russian bass sings as colorfully as he acts. He twitches his eyebrows and breaks into absurd preening with the comic timing of Harvey Korman.
Italian baritone Bruno de Simone brings idiomatic authority to the role of Isabella's would-be suitor Taddeo. Vivid contributions from Lyubov Petrova (Elivira), Valeriano Lanchas (Haly) and Leslie Mutchler (Zulma) complete the tight ensemble.
The chorus is in good form, as is the orchestra, guided with admirably elastic tempos and a keen sense of dynamic contrasts by conductor Riccardo Frizza.
Stage director David Kneuss keeps the eye entertained. A few gags are overused, such as the jiggling posteriors of prostrate slaves, or characters turning their heads in unison, like the crowd at a tennis match, when a musical ball bounces back and forth between voices. But it's all fun, and all very deftly carried out.
Some off-color bits spice things up, mostly involving Mustafa, who sports clumps of body hair that Austin Powers would covet (and that Isabella unexpectedly gets her hands on at one point). From over-stuffed eunuchs to a huge plate of pasta, the stage is nearly one continuous sight-gag, neatly complementing the endless flow of Rossini's witty music.