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?
For MYOPera, Anna Theodosakis chooses to set the work circa 1920s with an aesthetic that’s a mix of silent movie and stage farce. It’s a very good choice. The many complex ensembles are given stylized silent movie style gestures which are effective and it makes piano only accompaniment seem more appropriate. There’s lots of very silly and funny artificiality and the final Pappatacci scene is appropriately gross; lacking only perhaps a wafer thin mint. All in all it’s well timed, a must for comedy, and briskly paced. I’m not a huge expert on this piece but I think somewhere between 30 and 60 minutes of music has been cut which is probably a good idea too.
The performances are good across the board. At the core is Camille Rogers as Isabella. Her light, very flexible mezzo sounds good in the relatively small Aki Studio and she has tremendous stage presence and a real flair for comedy. As a rather knowing “flapper” she’s very convincing. Peter Warren as Mustafà copes very well with one of those treacherous Rossini roles that go very low in the baritone range but also require considerable vocal agility. He also creates an interesting persona; kind of insecure and plastic and splendidly hard to watch as he stuffs his face. It works. Jan van der Hooft doesn’t get quite as much interesting comedy as Lindoro but he does get a typically tricky Rossini tenor part which he handled pretty well. Evan Korbut was well into the aesthetic with a nervous, scaredy cat Taddeo (the butt of the pointy stick jokes) and was vocally perfectly adequate. David Boan is an impressive Haly. Mostly he gets to stand around looking impressive but he sang the one real aria he got rather beautifully.
Ashley Boychuk as Elvira, the rejected wife, was interesting. The role varies from a bitt dull (as such roles tend to be) to bursting into patches of insane coloratura which she handled very well. The trio of supporting ladies; Anna Sharpe as Zulma and Katherina Utochkina and Melina Garcia Zambrano as the Handmaidens sang well and were very decorative. Natasha Fransblow at the piano was her usual excellent self. With the piano off to the side and no conductor the ability of the cast to pull off a bunch of complex ensemble numbers was impressive.
All in all it’s a fun and well executed show and quite a contrast from last year’s Rape of Lucretia. Once again MYOpera have pulled together a very solid cast mostly from the lesser frequented corners of the young singer world though I didn’t see a “how have I missed this person before” in this year’s line up. MYOpera’s production of Rossini’s The Italian Girl in Algiers plays at the the Aki Studio in the Daniels Spectrum on Dundas Street East. There are performances today at 4.30pm and tomorrow at 2.30pm.
Photo credits: Dahlia Katz