In review: The Italian Girl in Algiers at MYOperaReview
“It’s refreshing to see a story where the woman saves the man,” says stage director Anna Theodosakis of Rossini’s comedy, The Italian Girl in Algiers, presented this past weekend by MYOpera at Toronto’s Aki Studio. The early 19th-century story is of Isabella, who sails from Italy to Algiers in search of her shipwrecked lover, Lindoro; Lindoro has found himself in the service of the Bey of Algiers, a ridiculous chieftain who happens to be on the hunt for a pretty exotic girl to replace his wife, of whom he’s grown bored.
With everything that’s ridiculous about Italian Girl, Rossini’s music seems an organic fit; there’s something inherently funny about his airy orchestration and exaggerated comic pacing. Impressive cadenzas become laughable, and the breakneck patter songs seem straight out of a cartoon world.
Theodosakis opts for charm in her production, and she maintains high stakes for the characters without letting the show as a whole take itself too seriously. She treated us to an overture full of shadow puppetry, giving us the gist of the action leading up to the first scene; it’s hard to pull off the story of two sunken ships as comedy, but the combination of Rossini’s peppy music - played by MYOpera Music Director Natasha Fransblow - and Keshia Palm’s puppet design seemed a winner.
In a refreshing surprise, the cast of singers was full of new faces, aligning impressively with MYOpera’s mission to provide professional experience to emerging singers and foster young careers. Camille Rogers was a calculated, unafraid Isabella with striking clarity in her coloratura. Her gathered sound was a great foil to the blustering, wild Mustafà, the Bey of Algiers sung hilariously by Peter Warren. Warren’s slapstick comedy and vocal boldness painted a clear picture of a man worthy of ridicule, hopelessly out of his league with Isabella.
Two standout performances were in Jan van der Hooft as Lindoro, and Evan Korbut as Taddeo. Van der Hooft seems a rare breed, comfortable with the extraordinarily high tessitura of Rossini’s tenor roles; he was efficient with patter and coloratura, but he also showed off an exciting lyricism in the sound that has us curious to hear him in future seasons. In the unfortunate role as placeholder-lover for Isabella, Korbut had some of the show’s best blending of singing and character. His baritone is in good shape, and he seems a natural at straddling the lines between playing a character who’s at once sympathetic and laughable.
Ashley Boychuk was a pitiable Elvira, the near-scorned wife of Mustafà; her sweet sound had us on her side, even though Elvira’s determination to stay with her horrid husband is a bit of a mystery. David Boan (Haly) and Anna Sharpe (Zulma) were great sidekicks to the Bey and Elvira, respectively, adding in doses of personality when they could.
Rossini’s music demands plenty from its singers, and Italian Girl comes with the extra challenges of making a comedy, well, funny. It may sound like a small thing, but this production succeeded largely because of the fun and risk that the cast took in the Italian recitatives. The singers allowed themselves silly sounds, and pulled the notes clear off the page into the realm of spoken text. It’s one of the hardest things about performing this kind of opera, and their skill with the Italian text allowed the audience to embrace the show’s absurdities.