L’Italiana in Algeri, Opera by G. Rossini
Gioachino Rossini was known for his immense productivity. In 1813, he composed no less than four major operas for four different theatres in Italy. L’italiana in Algeri (The Italian Girl in Algiers), a dramma giocoso in true Rossini fashion, was the one that would achieve lasting fame. Its exotic setting and inimitable joie de vivre come to the stage of the Gran Teatro La Fenice in Venice this season!
When the chance came up to write an opera for the Teatro San Benedetto in Venice, Rossini found himself under pressure. Fellow composer Carlo Coccia had failed to complete his commission on time, and Rossini was recruited to fill in the schedule gap with a completely new project. Racing against the clock, he picked up an existing libretto by Angelo Annelli and started composing at his usual rapid pace. Less than a month later, his L’italiana in Algeri was ready.
The plot of the opera centres around Isabella, a beautiful, smart woman who ventures into Algiers to rescue her lover Lindoro from Mustafà, the Bey of Algiers, who has kidnapped and enslaved him there. Using her brains and her charms in equal measure, Isabella manages to best Mustafà and escape Algiers with her man, leaving the Bey fuming, all to the audience’s utter delight.
L’italiana in Algeri has all the elements that make a classic Rossini comedy opera. Fast-paced, busy passages follow one another without ever sounding tiring or exaggerated, while the melodies rise and fall with elegance and ease that leave the ear wanting more. The overture is already a small wonder in its own right with the slow pizzicato, carried by the basses, that quite literally explodes into a full orchestral performance.
The opera is also another milestone where Rossini entrusts the female lead to a mezzo-soprano, pushing the boundaries of the voice and displaying its characteristic richness. The composer also creates a complex ensemble effect, characterised by syllable and consonant repetitions, that is as funny as it is inventive and ground-breaking.
L’italiana in Algeri premiered at Teatro San Benedetto in Venice on 22 May 1813 to prolonged thundering applause. It remains a favourite in the Rossini catalogue, and its exotic wit rings true to this day.