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Subject: I just love L'ITALIANA (Phildelphia Opera)
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Date:Mon, 24 Nov 2008 17:21:47 +0000

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You all know I adore Rossini, and who can resist a well-rounded, fun, inventive and frolicking production of L'ITALIANA in ALGERI with a spectacular ensemble of singers that truly understand the style and show it on stage both vocally and dramatically (or should I say comically!).

Opera Company of Philadelphia just revived this production and the last performance was yesterday, so sadly you won't have an opportunity to catch this top notch cast:
Set Design
Costume DesignRuxandra Donose
Lawrence Brownlee
Kevin Glavin
Daniel Belcher
Kiera Duffy
Tammy Coil
Corrado Rovaris
Stefano Vizioli
Paul Shortt
Richard St. Clair

I must commend Philly for obtaining the services of Maestro Rovaris as Music Director. Whatever the composer, he seems to always bring out the best from the orchestra, and yesterday was no different.
The basic set has three repeated curtains of scallop-edged backdrops with large coiled columns on the left and right (part of the curtain). There is sand and sea to the left and right and a rear backdrop with more sea. The overall feel is colorful and slightly cartoonish. Two giant lanterns hang from above in different scenes.
The opening scene has Elvira on a monstrous chaise longue getting massaged by two slaves, the eunuch chorus are in colorful kaftans with fringe and pompoms, hold feathered fans and were pointy blue fabric hats with floral rims. Mustafa has huge turbans, baggy pants and a long golden robe at the start, with Haly in a turban and long black kaftan with gold embroidered trim and cuffs.
The seaside scene for Lindoro's luscious "Languir per una bella" had sailors on the dunes at the rear sewing nets with 2-dimensional palms and Mr. Brownlee in a European style outfit that has clearly been locally influenced, but it was his burnished tenor that got the audience excited as he languished lovingly over the opening lines. The tour de force cabaletta gave the audience a reason to go into a frenzy of applause and bravos.

The ensuing tenor/basso duet was excellently articulated by both men at top speed for added comedy as Elvira slides across the rear of the set in small boat with umbrella preparing for her dismissal and departure.

The rear of the set has 2-dimensional waves and a small ship as Ms.Donose enters in a wine colored dress over yellow with a small pillbox hat and parasol looking a bit like Mary Poppins. "Cruda sorte" gave us a true idea of the warmth and depth to her mezzo range and there were a number of cute antics with the Algerian men trying to abduct her during the cabaletta.
Taddeo looked a bit like an Italian dandy with curly hair, moustache and cutaway powder blue tails over white pants. The "Hai capricci" duet was handled beautifully with the Italian chorus getting cuffed and having the outer garments stolen by the locals.

The ensuing scene gave us a chance to enjoy the comedy of Mr. Glavin who excels here as he chooses a turban from a long narrow table supported on the backs of four slaves.

The finale scene has Mustafa in flowing purple and gold robes and a huge wobbly purple turban. Nine hangings of two elephants each (one above the other like a pole on a  merry go round) drop down and a dais appears at the back with steps up to a throne.
Rossini triumphs always with the septet Act I finale, but it is very hard for a director to really come up with new ideas that can make ME laugh. Kudos to Mr. Vizioli who had the supers separate the 7 boxes that make up the dais and slide the throne and stairs away. Each soloist stood atop the box which had an upside down "U" bar for them to grab on as they were slid on wheels around the stage; it was BRILLIANT. Ms Duffy was rushed across the front of the stage as she embellished her night note trills and coloratura over the other singers and the elephants began to wing back and forth to boot.
It has been a long time since I have laughed so hard at the opera.

Act II gave us more Algerians ravaging through the Italian's underclothes and garments (and there oddly seemed to be a backdrop that kept getting stuck and never came down).
Mr. Brownlee's Act II aria gave us a gorgeous "felicita" high note at the end and then Mr. Belcher (who really should get an aria) had fun with the Kaimakan scene as two European tailors were brought in to measure him for his robes.

Isabella's other outfit was a wine colored harem veil-like gown in which she looked ravishing and she delivered her slow aria with relish and great warmth. The ensuing "coffee quintet" had some odd disco-like moves and then Mr. Phares got his chance to show off in Haly's way too short, "Le femine d'Italia." It's a shame that the baritones in this opera get mostly ensemble singing, but this opera is about ensemble singing.

"Pensa alla patria" was delivered in front of a small 2-D boat and hanging rigging with the Italian sailors (wearing cummerbunds of green/white/red) and we moved into the Pappatacci scene where a huge tablecloth was brought in and tied to Mustafa, Taddeo and all the other chorus pappatacci's necks biblike. Some supers came in with big fruit hats a la Carmen Miranda as Mustafa ate from them which got us all giggling a bit again.

L'Italiana ends so quickly one always wishes for more, but it was such a fun afternoon of great singing and staging that nobody went home unhappy!
ALAN SAVADA of Washington, DC

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