Opera Company of Philadelphia

The Italian Girl in Algiers

11/21/08

Busty, bawdy and as gay as Liberace in Casablanca, the Opera Company of Philadelphia all but sets the rainbow drapes on fire for Rossini’s ‘The Italian Girl in Algiers.’

For those who don’t know the story there is a built in harem in heat for the rotund Mustafa, who is looking for foreign ‘bon-bons’ to play in his palace. His pirates pillage for him on the high seas. His dressers are so fey they jete in the new silks.

But Isabella wasn’t pushed around on the boot or in Algiers. She’s a femme fatale that can whither swords both steel & flesh. Making the best of a shipwreck, she is going to do some pillaging of her own. A Mezzo-tranian farce ensues as she dupes pirates, eunuchs, sultans and the Mediterranean hoi polloi.

It may be stooge opera, but this cast can boast a lot of great singing headed by Ruxandra Donose, a fine mezzo who camps and vamps it up every moment. Lawrence Brownlee, equals with a commanding tenor as her lovelorn secret love. The singers starred in OCP’s Cinderella on 2006.

Daniel Belcher, a flings his foppish baritone about with nimble comic acting, posing as Isabella’s uncle instead of her lover to save himself from being impaled. The phallic jokes get so literal that guardsmen actually polish their spears.

Kevin Glavin uses his buffo bass to every advantage as Mustafa, that has him spooning and mugging like Curly one minute and checking out his butt in the mirror the next. And the man can work his turbans, whether they look like Mars attacks or a Carmen Miranda knockoff.

Rossini’s quintets and quartets are sung with gusto and sharpness by this able lead cast. Atop rolling cubes in one scene, they are rolled around the stage by slaves and it becomes vocal jousting from every angle.

Credit such meaty moments to director Stefano Vizioli. Corrado Rovaris, OCP’s resident conductor specializes in Italian opera and his punctuations are crisp and the clamorous Rossini canter brought to full gallop with one whip.

-Whittington