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Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Florentine Opera's Pleasant, Fun 'Italian Girl'

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A likable and inventive production of Rossini's The Italian Girl in Algiers (L'italiana in Algeri) opened at Florentine Opera last Friday evening. Though not the composer's most sparkling comedy, this production conjured a more than pleasant evening, with some sparkling moments.

A ruler (Mustafa) on the Mediterranean coast of Algiers longs for a new Italian wife to add to his harem. Such a lady, Isabella, is captured, and finds that her beloved has been captured and made slave by the court. Isabella's remarkable character both charms Mustafa and escapes him.

Uneven casting has been a historical problem at Florentine. It was a relief to hear this good and convincing cast, with all roles well sung. As Isabella, Daniela Mack's voice was right at home in the generally low range of her role, singing with vibrant color. I would not be surprised to learn of her career rising substantially. Robert McPherson's voice as Lindoro has wonderful, natural ring and resonance. His early aria sounded a bit constricted, but freer singing came as the evening progressed. Kevin Glavin is a resourceful comic actor, bringing lots of skillful shenanigans to the role of the befuddled Mustafa. Daniel Belcher's bright baritone was a pleasure to hear as Taddeo. Erica Schuller brought shimmering soprano sound to Elvira.

Director William Theisen, artistic director of Skylight Opera, showed some of his best work to date in this production. Comic invention was tempered by restraint. Working with a lovely and colorful set (hired from Indiana University), Theisen admirably met the challenge of a Rossini Act I finale: creating zany, loopy mayhem. This is more difficult to do than one might guess. With decorative flying elephants swinging and the set coming apart to be moved randomly around the stage, the direction caught just the right spirit of spontaneous chaos. Act II of this opera loses momentum, but that is a built-in problem with the score and libretto.

Conductor Joseph Rescigno led the performance capably. There was not the sizzle and sharp etching of the best Rossini conductors, but the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra played well in the pit. 
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