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Italian Girl Delights

Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
05/13/2006 -  
Gioachino Rossini: L’Italiana in Algeri
Olga Borodina (Isabella), Juan Diego Florez (Lindoro), Lyubov Petrova (Elvira), Valeriano Lanchas (Haly), Ildar Abdrazakov (Mustafa), Leslie Mutchler (Zulma), Bruno de Simone (Taddeo)
Jean-Pierre Ponnelle (production, set, costume design)
David Kneuss (director)
Washington National Opera Chorus and Orchestra, Riccardo Frizza (conductor)

There’s nothing quite as much fun as a well done romp with Rossini, which is exactly what the Washington National Opera provided in its production of L’Italiana in Algeri. An absolute delight to the eyes and ears, the National Opera delivered a brilliant cast of actor-singers who made this buffa moment shine everso brightly.

Leading off the impressive cast was Russian mezzo-soprano Olga Borodina, assuredly one of the world’s most sought after singers. Borodina’s somewhat acclaimed for her heavier charcter roles, such as Carmen, Amneris, and Dalila. But, as Isabella, Borodina proved herself a natural fit for the comedic adventure. Her rich mezzo and superb technical abilities, added to her equally superb characterization, made her every moment and movement on stage captivating.

Also captivating was the much acclaimed tenor Juan Diego Florez, as Lindoro. Diego is being called the “new Pavarotti” these days and for good reason. Diego’s sound open and pure and extraordinarily flexible. It’s of the tenore di grazia style so perfectly suited for Rossini’s florid passages. It’s spontaneous and natural in quality. As for his impeccable technique—it wowed the audience in this, his National Opera debut. To say that Diego is comfortable in bel canto is hardly necessary. He flourishes in it, as heard in this performance that brought chills and thrills. In addition to superb singing, Diego also brought considerable acting skills. As the love stuck Lindoro, Diego’s physical characterization found him jumping onto and off set pieces, racing up and down stairs, doing leaps and turns and entrechats worthy of a danseur noble, all the while singing and never missing a beat. The fact that Diego is some kind of handsome fellow adds to his universal appeal, as it did in this National Opera production.

A fun turn of events was the casting of Russian bass Ildar Abdrazakov as the chauvinist Mustafa. Abdrazakov is actually Borodina’s real life husband, which made Mustafa’s lusting after Isabella and her plotting to thwart him all the more fun. Abdrazakov regaled us with his deep, resonant bass and his stage appeal as he strutted about, the virile master of his harem.

Russian soprano Lyubov Petrova quite effectively delivered her Elvira, singing and moving about the stage with grace. Italian baritone Bruno de Simone was a superb Taddeo. Columbian bass Valeriano Lanchas was an engaging Haly. As for the eunuchs, what fun they were.

Director David Kneuss shaped with care and excellence this esteemed Jean-Pierre Ponnelle production, orchestrating the pace and movement in a theatrical-type version of a Rossini crescendo that builds and builds to a spectacular climax. The direction, here, was simply grand.

Riccardo Frizza conducted with great vigor, keeping things crisp, brisk, and bright. If he held the tempi tight, somewhat demanding the singers keep pace, it was for the betterment of the product which maintained a sense of urgency, edge, excitement, and extraordinary fun.

John C. Shulson



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