By Peter Jacobi
The downer on both Friday and Saturday evenings was that there were too many empty seats in the Musical Arts Center. Mind you, the seats that were filled seemed to be occupied by happy campers because their cheers and laughter and applause generously kept coming throughout the performances.
Those present had good reason to so respond because IU Opera Theater’s current revival of Rossini’s delightfully absurd little comedy, “The Italian Girl in Algiers,” is awfully good fun.
And that’s why the downer element: every empty seat represented a lost opportunity for someone to have had an enjoyable and rewarding experience. Both the opera and the production deserved full houses.
Not that there was always perfection on stage. Rossini’s “Italian Girl,” in addition to being delightful and absurd and little, is an immensely difficult undertaking for any opera company, certainly for one built on young and still settling voices. The score abounds in coloratura, particularly for the mezzo selected to sing the title role, Isabella, and the tenor who portrays and sings her lover, Lindoro. They are faced consistently with too many notes stretched across their vocal range, all the way from extreme lows to highs, with abundant leaps and often with the need to negotiate passages with great speed.
That auditions came up with a pair of Isabellas and a pair of Lindoros is more than one should have hoped for. But there they were, Veronica Jensen and Francisco Orrega Huerta on Friday and Deniz Uzun and Lucas Wassmer on Saturday. The two Isabellas tackled their hurdles as if without hesitation or trepidation. Not only that, but they created full-blooded personages: Isabella may be the object of Mustafa’s desire, but she has the will to outmaneuver this Bey of Algiers and get herself and her fellow Italians away from his grasp.
If anything, the part of Lindoro is even more difficult to fulfill. There are more coloratura mezzos around than coloratura tenors. Both Huerta and Wassmer skipped some notes here and there and occasionally went askew when faced with dramatic jumps to the top. But they were brave performers and earned kudos for themselves as both singers and actors.
The third critical role in this opera buffo of Rossini is that of Mustafa. He is a tiger of a monarch who turns out to be a kitten and decides, in the end, that he’d much rather keep the submissive wife he wanted to get rid of than face the future with an Italian girl, with Isabella, whose independent streak will most likely give him nothing but grief. IU’s production features two strong bass-baritones: Stefano de Peppo, on Friday, and Rafael Porto, on Saturday, offered rollicking portrayals of a potentate reduced to fool. They had much to sing and much to do and did so exceedingly well.
All of the singers benefited from the presence of guest conductor Marzio Conti and guest stage director Julia Pevzner. Maestro Conti, from an overture deliciously played by the Concert Orchestra right through to second act curtain, kept commendable control of musical matters, in the pit and on stage. One never forgot in listening that this was Rossini; the needed bounce and bubbles were always present.
Pevzner gave the singers — including Walter Huff’s well-trained, all male chorus — the wherewithal to be comic, the willingness to let go of inhibitions and enter into the opera’s zany make-believe of a world and inhabit it.
The rest of the cast added to the ever-building nonsense: sopranos Brooklyn Snow and Natalie Weinberg as Elvira, the wife Mustafa wanted to rid himself of; baritones Edward Graves and Heeseung Chae as the captain of Mustafa’s corsairs, given the assignment to find a substitute wife and happy to have Isabella come along to save him from his boss’s threat of impalement; mezzos Marianthi Hatzis and Anna Hashizume as Elvira’s maid, and — most importantly — baritones Connor Lidell and Bruno Sandes as Taddeo, Isabella’s befuddled admirer. Sandes, it was duly noted, added whimsical, laughter-stirring choreography to his portrayal.
Daniela Siena contributed excellent diction coaching; the Italian language as sung sounded genuinely Italian. Patrick Mero’s lighting added to the effectiveness of a simple set designed some years ago for a production of Mozart’s “Abduction from the Seraglio” by Robert O’Hearn, a palatial façade with usable doors and windows plus a blue streak low on canvas to suggest the Mediterranean. Dana Tzvetkova deserves praise for the costumes.
I recommend the production. Come fill those seats.
© Herald Times 2014