The Italian Girl in Algiers: Rossini's "feminist celebration"

The Italian Girl in Algiers: Rossini's "feminist celebration"

Jenna Simeonov

Next week, MYOpera opens its production of The Italian Girl in Algiers, Rossini’s famed comedy about a woman determined to save her lover from a cruel fate. Under the direction of Anna Theodosakis and music directed by Natasha Fransblow, The Italian Girl in Algiers runs April 28-30 at the Aki Studio, Daniels Spectrum, 585 Dundas Street East.

We spoke with Theodosakis about the fun of directing comedy, and why Rossini’s opera is a true “feminist celebration”.

What do you think are the tricks to directing comedy?

It’s important to make sure the actors know that the situations are not funny to their characters. Many comedic plays and operas place the characters in utter turmoil; it’s only comedy because everything works out in the end. Actors need to be completely invested with great seriousness no matter how wacky the circumstance. This deep investment is what reads as funny to the audience who can see the big picture better than those involved.

There’s also the comedy rule of three, meaning a bit might repeat and on the third time it’s different. A pattern is established and ends with something unexpected. This works out really nicely in opera because the music often allows for a sequence of repetitions. V-I cadences become the perfect punch line.

Is it just me or is dissecting jokes the least funny thing?

With Rossini’s style, and other composers who repeat lines of text many times, what are the challenges posed to a director?

Repetition is a great challenge, as a director you need to find out why a character would repeat the same text multiple times. In every piece of theatre a character has an objective, or want, and this need is what drives the story forward. Frequently objectives are in opposition with other character’s needs creating conflict. In comedy, as opposed to tragedy, most characters achieve their objectives, making them easy to wrap up in a nice bow.

Characters use tactics to get what they want from others, these tactics often come in the form of verbs (such as to flirt, to beg, to threaten). Tactics colour the delivery of lines with different and interesting subtexts. When a character repeats the same line more than once each new iteration needs to have a different subtext because the previous tactic they used didn’t achieve their objective, hence the need to repeat themselves.

While this can get very technical and detailed, it gives the effect of variety and keeps the audience interested.

Anna Theodosakis, director of MYOpera’s L’italiana in Algeri.

What do you think remains timeless about the story of THe Italian Girl in Algiers?

I think when The Italian Girl in Algiers was written it was really ahead of its time. Composed in 1813 and based on a libretto by Angelo Anelli written in 1808, L’italiana has really progressive views on women at a time when they had very little rights or independence. It’s a feminist celebration written by two 19th-century men that easily translates into the 21st-century. The heroine Isabella is a brave and adventurous woman who cannot be outwitted. It’s refreshing to see a story where the woman saves the man (Isabella’s boyfriend Lindoro).

In Isabella’s recits with Elvira I’m always reminded of the scene from My Big Fat Greek Wedding where the mother says, “The man is the head [of the house], but the woman is the neck and she can turn the head anyway she wants.”

Rossini’s music is also timeless and extremely catchy, making the show a fun experience for those well versed in opera or new to the genre. His rhythms are infectious and everyone will go home bouncing down the street.

Do you have any favourite moments in the opera?

The moment when Isabella sees Lindoro for the first time after searching for him for three months is musically and dramatically mesmerizing. Time seems to freeze as beautiful chords yearn on, never resolving. It’s not clear whether the two lovers are elated, nervous, or simply stunned. This leads into the greatest and wildest Rossini finale of all time where mass hysteria leads to the characters only being able to sing “ding ding,” “tac tac,” or “boom boom.”

MYOpera’s The Italian Girl in Algiers runs April 28-30 at the Aki Studio, Daniels Spectrum, 585 Dundas St. E. For full details and ticket information, click here.

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