Verona, Teatro Filarmonico:”L’Italiana in Algeri”

Verona. Filarmonico Theatre. ‘The Other Sides of Arena’ 2013-2014
Opera  in 2 acts, libretto by Angelo Anelli
Music by Gioachino Rossini 
Mustafa, Bey of Algiers  MIRCO PALAZZI
Elvira, his wife  ALIDA BERTI
Zulma, her slave and confidante  ALESSIA NADIN
Haly, capitain of the Algerian corsairs in the service of the Bey  FEDERICO LONGHI
Lindoro, an Italian in love with Isabella   DANIELE ZANFARDINO
Isabella, an Italian  MARINA DE LISO
Taddeo, an Italian retainer to Isabella  FILIPPO FONTANA
Orchestra and Chorus of the Arena di Verona
Conductor Francesco Lanzillotta
Chorus master Armando Tasso
Director, sets and costumes Pier Luigi Pizzi    
Verona, 6th February, 2014.

The strong point in this staging of L’Italiana in Algeri, is Pier Luigi Pizzi‘s historic production. It is fresh and delightful and above all, hasn’t dated after 20 years. The sets and costumes are refined and simple, in keeping with the levity of the opera.  Rossini embraced the 18th century’s fascination for the exotic of the Ottoman Empire, and Orientalism in general,  and it may be more than a coincidence that the opera premiered in 1813 in Venice, the city with the strongest historical ties to the Ottomans.  It seems too, that the plot was based on a true story of the time. The themes treated in Rossini’s opera, notwithstanding its comic and light-hearted vein, are more than ever topical  in Italy today,  particularly in the underlying comparison between Western and Islamic culture and tradition, and the acquiescence and submission of women.  Pizzi captures the spirit of all of this with a discreet dose of  wit and irony. He creates evocative and harmonious scenes, with the skilful use of carved sliding screens, marble steps, an outdoor pavilion in the near ground and Sancta Sofia in the distance, and amusingly sets the first scene in a very convincing Turkish Bath complete with a bevy of seated eunuchs, their heads shrouded in towels. From the candles lighting the proscenium before the curtain rises, to the warmth and depth of the sky in the background, to the footlights effect on the singers and chorus, the subtlety and vibrancy of the lighting are calibrated and stunning. The elegant costumes are in oriental style but only those of the soloists are ornate and colourful, and  in very strong hues. The costumes of the eponymous heroine are very theatrical and extravagant, highlighting the strong and independent personality which is apparent from her first whip-wielding entry and defines a stark demarcation point  between the situations of the  two female contenders.
In the third performance, on 6th February, the orchestra, conducted by Lanzillotta, found the perfect dynamic balance with the stage and in turn, the buoyancy, sparkle and  grace to express the brilliant character of the work  and geniality of the youthful(21 year old)Rossini.  Overall, the orchestra was precise and attentive, and although there were a couple of noticeable technical slips in the woodwind in the ouverture, the major solos throughout the opera were executed with competency and accuracy.  The male chorus, too, was dramatically convincing, musically compact and precise and stylistically refined.  Unfortunately, on more than one occasion, the stage and orchestra were not synchronized, although they were quick to realign. The most commanding performance of the evening came from the bass Marco Palazzi who effortlessly combined a natural and easy stage presence, with a  resonant and agile voice of rich  timbre. Daniele Zanfardino acquitted himself admirably in the passages of  agility, and although he phrased with elegance and taste and  threw himself into the role with passion, his volume resulted too lightweight to be incisive, especially over the orchestra.  Marina De Liso presented a strong and temperamental Isabella, but a continual and wavering vibrato clouded diction and articulation and rendered her vocal line unfocussed. Obvious variance between registers was manifest and the low notes although firm and clear,were thrown into a chest voice of a completely different nature to the rest. A resourceful artist, she handled the coloratura with determination. After a rather thin start Alida Berti, as Elvira,gained substance as the opera progressed, as did Alessia Nadin at her side as the slave Zulma.  Filippo Fontana was a restrained rather than histrionic Taddeo, and the Haly of  Federico Longo was secure and entertaining. The performance merited a more numerous audience, but those present made up for it in the warmth of their applause. Photo Ennevi