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Spotty L’Italiana in Dallas Opera’s Music Hall Farewell

The Music Hall at Fair Park
03/06/2009 -  & March 8, 11, 14
Gioachino Rossini: L’Italiana in Algeri
Manuela Custer (Isabella), Paolo Pecchioli (Mustafà), William Burden (Lindoro), Patrick Carfizzi (Taddeo), Ava Pine (Elvira), John Sauvey (Haly), Clara O’Brien (Zulma)
Dallas Opera Orchestra, Alexander Rom (chorus master), Graeme Jenkins (conductor, continuo)
Chris Alexander (director), Robert Innes Hopkins (set design), David C. Woolard (costume design), Duane Schuler (lighting design), David Zimmerman (wig and make-up design)

P. Pecchiolo (Mustafà) (© Karen Almond)

Dallas Opera had a lot to live up to in its season-ending production of Rossini’s L’Italiana in Algeri: the first performance the company presented in its inaugural season boasted one Maria Callas in the same opera and in the same house. In its last production at the Music Hall in Fair Park, Dallas might not have the stars to compete with its 1957 debut, but it does have a generally entertaining production despite a somewhat uneven cast.

The two stars of opening night were bass Paolo Pecchioli as Mustafà and bass-baritone Patrick Carfizzi as Taddeo. Pecchioli, in his company debut, boomed his full, true bass into the house throughout the performance and executed perfect runs and coloratura. The Italian also showed the most stage prowess of the entire cast. Despite being assigned stock Rossinian silliness, Pecchioli acted a funny and clever Mustafà without coming off as juvenile.

New York native Patrick Carfizzi sang a clear, powerful, vocally agile Taddeo. Carfizzi’s acting was spot on, and he seemed to be the only vocalist that felt comfortable adding improvised decoration to his phrases. Dallas will be wise to bring him back in the future after this, his successful company debut.

Italian mezzo Manuela Custer, however, was vocally underwhelming as Isabella. Custer has a very strong chest voice and a solid top, but everything in between is practically inaudible. Her runs were not projected well during “Cruda sorte,” and her most convincing moment came in “Per lui che adoro,” which calls for little more in the orchestra than pizzicato accompaniment.

Similarly, it took a little while for William Burden to warm up as Lindoro. Rossini’s score doesn’t help much, given that the tenor’s opening aria, “Languir per una bella,” calls for both lyricism and coloratura right from Lindoro’s entrance. Burden cut some corners in the aria, but seemed much more comfortable in the second act. He sang and acted very well in the ensembles and had contributed a solid performance by the end of the night despite some pushing.

The rest of the cast acquitted themselves quite well. Fort Worth native John Sauvey sang a strong Haly, and Clara O’Brien was a solid theatrical Zulma despite the thankless role. Ava Pine’s top was a bit shrill, but she acted well as Elvira.

The production, updated to the 1920s, is elegant, colorful, and provides for quick scene transitions. Even though director Chris Alexander added some clever touches to the production, he went overboard with the schtick. The directorial highlight of the performance was the first act finale, which had some ingenuity, but Alexander seems to have run out of ideas for some of the ensembles. It would be unfair to say this L’Italiana is not entertaining, but Alexander could have been a little more creative; you know a director has exhausted his comedic repertoire when he resorts to the can-can.

In addition to sitting at the harpsichord for the recitatives, Dallas Opera music director Graeme Jenkins led a lively rendition of the overture and kept the often-chaotic ensembles together quite well.

In the end, Pecchioli and Carfizzi carried this L’Italiana in Algeri; both men have bright futures in bel canto and otherwise. In Dallas Opera’s decision to have L’Italiana close out the Music Hall at Fair Park, however, the company got a bit too much schtick with its closure. It still remained an entertaining night, no doubt, and was a safe choice for both the season and house finale.

In October, the company will move into the Winspear Opera House (part of the new Dallas Center for the Performing Arts) with a new production of Verdi’s Otello.

Paul Wooley



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