A DAZZLING, STELLAR ISABELLA
The Italian Girl in Algiers
Music by Gioacchino Rossini
Libretto by Angelo Anelli
Directed by Colin McColl
Conducted by Wyn Davies
NBR New Zealand Opera
at St James Theatre, Wellington
From 9 May 2009 to 16 May 2009
Reviewed by John Button, 12 May 2009
originally published in The Dominion Post
Not that the musical demands can be ignored for, although the musical invention is very slender, the vocal abilities of the performers are stretched to the limit. Apart from a few solo arias the singing, outside the recitatives, is a long series of demanding ensembles. Duets, trios quartets, quintets and sextets abound and the coloratura requirements of the bel canto period leaves every one exposed.
Thanks to great casting all bases are covered in this supremely polished, endlessly effervescent, production.
Rossini could have created the role of Mustafa for Conal Coad, the quintessential basso buffo, and he plays the part to the hilt. So, too, does Warwick Fyfe as the fall guy Taddeo, revealing a gorgeously rich voice into the bargain. Christian Baumgartel is stylish as Lindoro, his light tenor providing a fine contrast to the bass voices.
In the supporting roles of Elvira, Haly and Zulma, Katherine Wiles, Richard Green and Kristen Darragh are all one could ask. The chorus is superb and the orchestra under Wyn Davies, after a slightly sluggish start goes from strength to strength.
But without a charismatic Isabella there is not much point in doing this opera, and here Wendy Dawn Thompson is the complete package. She looks dazzling, fully capable of wowing Mustafa, she acts splendidly - does anyone do a better operatic laugh? - and she can sing.
The production, a co-production with Scottish Opera, is very, very clever. Set as a soap opera, we have the set with a green background simultaneous with its background on a screen. This brings its own hilarious moments, adding to both the complexity and chaos of an already heady mixture.
This is brilliant theatre, and when one considers just how much could have gone wrong, it is dazzlingly realised.
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