Rossini (L') Italiana in Algeri
Stylishly sung and dashingly conducted, this theatrically gamesome L’italiana in Algeri could be the version of choice for a while to come. It was recorded live by Deutschlandradio Kultur during performances at the 20th “Rossini in Wildbad” festival in July 2008. The only distraction, other than the coyly cropped applause which follows each number, concerns Isabella’s besotted “uncle” (vividly played by Bruno De Simone) who seems to be recorded in his own discrete sound world.
Fifty years ago you would have looked in vain for a bass-baritone capable of singing Mustafà the bumbling Bey with the kind of mobility Rossini requires. Nowadays there is no shortage of coloratura basses, as Lorenzo Regazzo memorably proves. He is well cast opposite Marianna Pizzolato whose disarmingly seductive Isabella is airier and more graceful than any of her predecessors on record. Though the well executed trill remains in short supply, these latter-day Italian Rossinians act with spirit, project with intelligence and ornament with skill.
American tenor Lawrence Brownlee is also in fine fettle as Isabella’s inamorato Lindoro, though an interfering booklet editor has sown confusion by adding to the English version of Reto Müller’s superb background note a track reference which wrongly suggests that Brownlee replaces “Oh come il cor di giubilo” with the more substantial aria Rossini wrote for the 1814 Milanese revival. Small cuts in secco recitatives apart, the performance is a straight reading of the 1981 Critical Edition.
The Czech Virtuosi Brunensis provide lean, light-fingered strings, stylish winds and a pair of horns well able to cope with the demands Rossini occasionally makes of them. Alberto Zedda, 80 in 2008, conducts with grace and guile yet is not afraid to up the ante in Rossini’s more delirious “it’s a mad world my masters” moments.
Newcomers to L’italiana in Algeri should steer clear of the expensive and not entirely satisfactory Abbado recording. The only serious rivals to this pleasing new Naxos set are the 1980 Scimone version with Marilyn Horne and Samuel Ramey and, if the format pleases, the recent highlights disc in Chandos’s Opera in English series (6/09) starring Jennifer Larmore.