Bringing the Music to you

Stacks Image 500
LuccaOperaFestival in Montecarlo

Montecarlo is normally a sleepy, idyllic hill - top town, over looking the Lucca plain and surrounded by olive groves and vineyards. However, we are now into the tourist season and despite the umbrella type weather at the weekend, the rain-drenched streets surrounding the picturesque centre were lined with parked cars and the whole place had come to life. The main attraction was no doubt the wine and olive oil tasting event, always very popular with the public. However, there was also the added bonus of an opportunity to see an exhilarating production of Rossini’s opera, The Italian Girl in Algiers, performed in the teatro by the young and dynamic opera company, LuccaOpera.

Stacks Image 634

The tiny theatre Rassicurati gave an added intimacy to the production, with the orchestra, expertly conducted by Jonathan Brandini sitting just in front of the spectators. Brandini announced that the performance was dedicated to Christopher Hogwood, the founder of the Academy of Ancient Music who died last year and whose sister was in the audience. Hogwood would no doubt have approved of this fresh new production of the opera, which used period instruments, producing the brilliant, sparkling sound that Rossini originally intended.

The work was written in 1813 when Rossini was only 21 and in record making time, taking only around three weeks to complete. Born one year after Mozart died, he retained a strong admiration for his predecessor and for Haydn too. The overture, which is often performed separately as a concert piece begins softly and slowly with pizzicato basses, when suddenly there is a loud burst of sound from the whole orchestra, reminiscent of the opening of Haydn’s Surprise Symphony which gently lulls the audience to sleep before comically shocking them awake. This then was just the start of Rossini’s wonderfully comic – timing, which bubbles along throughout the opera alongside witty melodies with bright coloratura passages, breakneck patter sequences and brilliant orchestration.

Stacks Image 676

The director, Stefania Panighini used the overture very creatively. After the surprise, the curtains opened to reveal the main male character (Mustafá ) sitting in front of a magic mirror. The other protagonists walked onto the stage using gesture and mime with the women carrying placards advertising votes for women. With shades of Alice through the looking Glass and The Wizard of Oz, they were each pushed through the mirror to find themselves in another world, timeless and surreal, wearing different clothes to suit their new surroundings; and so the main action began.

Isabella, a young Italian woman travels to Algiers to find her missing fiancé, Lindoro. Meanwhile, Mustafá, the Bey of Algiers for whom Lindoro is working, is bored with his wife Elvira and on seeing Isabella becomes completely besotted. He decides that she will be the next addition to his harem and tries to get Lindoro to take Elvira out of the way so that he can marry Isabella. However, Isabella is more than a match for Mustafá and proves to be very resourceful. She tells him that she is making him a Pappataci – an Italian custom and great honour, The Pappataci enjoy a life devoted to eating, drinking and sleeping and since Mustafá enjoys all three, he soon becomes intoxicated with alchohol and Isabella and Lindoro are able to escape. All ends happily; Elvira forgives Mustafá and he promises not to go in in search of Italian girls again.

Stacks Image 3932

Rossini’s style of opera buffa has two Acts and was influenced by commedia in his use of four stock characters; a prima donna (soprano or mezzo); a light, amorous tenor; a baritone capable of producing lyrical irony and a basso buffo with clear articulation and the ability to patter, the three men all being in love with the soprano/mezzo.
uses bel canto, a florid style of singing in which the melodies are highly embellished and this score is full of fast moving coloratura passages, particularly for the main protagonist, Isabella. Mezzo soprano, Loriana Casteliano has a glorious voice and gave an impressive performance as Isabella, both vocally and dramatically, bringing out the humour at every opportunity.

Here is a clip from her duet with Taddeo, a blustering admirer, played with energy and great characterisation by baritone
Mattia Campetti.

(basso buffo) literally sparkled with his warm sonorous voice, energetic interpretation and excellent technique and was particularly funny in the silly Pappataci trio in Act 2, which made much use of patter passages sung very rapidly.
Rossini was often known as Signor Crescendo because he was fond of using repeated phrases while gradually increasing the volume with thickening texture, and layered melodies so heightening the humour.
Here is an example of Signor Crescendo - the end of the Finale to Act 1 with the seven characters growing more and more confused and agitated.

All in all, a very entertaining night out at the opera.

Written by Paula Chesterman from Tuscan Talent