ALBUM TITLE: Rossini
WORKS: L’italiana in Algeri
PERFORMER: Jennifer Larmore, Bruce Ford, Simone Alaimo, Alessandro Corbelli; Chorus & Orchestra L’Opéra National de Paris/Bruno Campanella; dir. Andrei Serban (Paris, 1998)
CATALOGUE NO: DVWW-OPITAL (NTSC system; DD 5.1; 16:9 anamorphic)
It has taken a while for this 1998 performance from the Palais Garnier to reach DVD, and having waited so long they might as well have not bothered at all. Rossini’s early comedies often seem to invite somewhat heavy-handed direction, but this is an extreme case – motivated, one fears, by the North African setting of the opera and another chance to poke fun at Muslim culture. When Rossini wrote L’italiana in 1813, memories of the Muslim slave trade were not so distant, but given the more recent history of the French in Algiers, it’s
a bit rich of the Opéra National de Paris to come up with this.
The director Andrei Serban, never one to crack a nut with a sledgehammer when a steam-roller will do, goes for clashing colour – the updated costumes loosely suggest a modern Middle Eastern regime – and constant hyperactivity. The sheer ugliness of his enterprise is revealed right at the start in the hugely padded bellies of the palace eunuchs. This is a great pity, as Bruno Campanella conducts a lively account of Rossini’s sparkling score, and the cast is a fine one. In the title role, Jennifer Larmore brings dark tone and secure attack to her lines, and as Mustafà, the Bey of Algiers who is so distracted by the charms of Isabella, Simone Alaimo supplies muscular singing. Bruce Ford’s Lindoro is stylish, and Alessandro Corbelli is forced to suppress his priceless comic gifts in favour of ludicrously characterised Taddeo. What a waste of fine artists: the production is unwatchable. John Allison