Rossini is still the King of Good Times in an opera house. His infectious humor, sly, winking, direct, and hilarious, can only put a smile on your face. There are no complications, no dead bodies, nothing to worry about, but there is every reason to have a great time while listening to some of the most flamboyant vocal writing ever composed.
With this farce Rossini created a brilliant opera that took the world by storm right from its creation, but it’s tricky. It takes a conductor with a light touch and a sprightly baton to lead the company through this sparkling music, and a special kind of stage director to carry off Rossini’s shenanigans with seeming ease [few things are as difficult to pull off as good comedy]. It also takes gifted and very accomplished singers to deliver the goods. With Michael Shell directing and Ming Luke conducting, and our current company of singers supplemented by guest artists of remarkable ability, Opera San José has assembled all the elements to give you an evening of Rossini that is pure delight.
Rossini made his reputation very early when he delivered his first opera, The Marriage Contract, a one-act farce, at the age of 18(!). With his youthful confidence and native genius Rossini reformed comic opera, making it both solidly constructed and very funny. We should point out that he was a true genius who changed opera entirely. The Marriage Contract was such a revolutionary composition that his cast warned him of an unavoidable disaster. To their surprise the opera was a tremendous hit, and Rossini was commissioned to create new works continually for many years to come. His fame eclipsed that of Beethoven while Beethoven yet lived.
The two operas that tossed Rossini into international fame were the hit comedy The Italian Girl in Algiers and a surprisingly popular serious opera, Tancredi, but it was The Italian Girl that was first performed outside Italy, in Munich and then Paris. Since then it has been performed all over the world, and was constantly on the international circuit for decades after its premiere. It remained on the boards throughout the 19th century, despite Rossini’s waning reputation during Wagner and Verdi’s rise in popular taste.
Rossini’s manic tempos, outrageously fast, and his love of setting repetitive onomatopoeia, to the point of reducing the text to pure nonsense in his dizzying ensembles, have always fascinated audiences. But all this charming silliness would come to nothing without a stunning cast that revels in high-octane comedy. Opera San José is fortunate to have just such a charismatic constellation of singers for this production. The Italian Girl in Algiers is a rare and tempting treat, and it is rare because of Rossini’s vocal demands. This is the first time we have been able to bring this ambitious beast of a comedy to the stage, and that is because we have been able to secure a cast equal to the challenge.
The Italian girl, Lisa Chavez, is a mezzo-soprano whose rich, sonorous voice has been celebrated in the press since her first appearance in the California Theatre. Armed with formidable vocal gifts, she launches into the monkey business of freeing her Italian boyfriend from slavery in the court of the Bey of Algiers while she deftly avoids becoming a member of the Bey’s harem. Clever girl…
The Italian boyfriend, the tall, athletic tenor, Michael Dailey, has charmed OSJ audiences in past Rossini and Donizetti operas, among them La Cenerentola and The Elixir of Love. His rapid-fire accuracy, even in the high-flying stratosphere required of bel canto tenors, is eye opening. His dark good looks put the romantic back in romantic comedy.
The Bey of Algiers, bass Nathan Stark, has just had his debut with the Metropolitan Opera in Die Frau ohne Schatten, [The Woman Without a Shadow by Richard Strauss] and he recently performed with the Boston Symphony in Salome [needless to say he did not sing the title role], and he has performed Philip II in Verdi’s Don Carlo. Described by the Washington Post as having a voice of “unearthly power” Stark has also performed Don Basilio in Rossini’s The Barber of Seville, and Don Profondo in Rossini’s Il viaggio a Reims, so his comic sensibility is as sure as his dramatic command.
Taddeo, Isabella’s annoyingly ever-amorous traveling companion, baritone Matthew Hanscom, just made his OSJ debut as Rigoletto, where he cast a very long shadow. From his performances of that tragic anti-hero one would never think comedy would be so easy for him, but it is, and in this lyric repertoire his voice is meltingly beautiful.
Haly, the Bey’s obedient and grumbling servant, will be sung by San José’s favorite bass, Silas Elash, who will carry out the insane orders of the Bey with the astonishing luck of situation comedy, when just the right Italian girl washes up on shore from a shipwreck, which just happens to take place where her Italian boyfriend has been captured. You can see, this is all just for fun!
Don’t miss it!