Notes and Editorial Reviews
There is no want for recordings of this opera, and several are terrific: Jennifer Larmore/Raul Gimenez (Teldec); Horne/Alva (Opera d'Oro); Horne/Ramey (Erato); Baltsa/Raimondi (DG). But there's always room for another if it's good, and this new release, recorded at the 2008 Wildbad Rossini Festival, is excellent--and the least expensive of them all.
The star here is Lawrence Brownlee, the superb coloratura-lyric tenor who is giving Juan Diego Florez a run for his money. Warm of tone, stylish, accurate, rhythmically impeccable, fearless of high notes, involved with the text, and capable of marvelous patter (his first-act duet with Mustafa is a gem), Brownlee is the best Lindoro on disc. He is given both of his arias, which he dispatches nimbly and naturally.
Almost as fine (behind only Samuel Ramey) is Lorenzo Regazzo's Mustafa, here portrayed not as a buffoon but as a man smitten and naive to the wiles of women. The voice is appealing, dark, and round-toned, and he sings the coloratura and patter handily. I like that he doesn't growl and yelp like most basses do in this role; he may be a tyrannical character but he's in a position of power and distinction. The other two low men's voices are equally good: Giulio Mastrototaro's Haly is colorful and self-assured, and Bruno De Simone's is the best Taddeo on disc. He has the Rossini style down pat and sings with impeccable diction. He doesn't sound young, but that's hardly an issue. Both men are fine in ensembles.
Marianna Pizzolato is a far lighter mezzo than we normally hear in this role. I guess in keeping with underplaying Mustafa's foolishness, we avoid having an Isabella who sounds as if she could conquer Algiers singlehandedly--as, say, Baltsa and Horne could. Pizzolato is more in the Teresa Berganza class (although the voice is not as lovely); there are no booming low notes, but she commands the role on her own terms. There's little to argue with vocally--she has the technique down pat--and she has a good sense of fun as well. Ruth Gonzales as Mustafa's poor, fed-up wife, Elvira, can be slightly shrill but is mostly an excellent part of the ensemble, and mezzo Elsa Giannoulidou holds up her end as Zulma.
Alberto Zedda, an old hand who can occasionally be more scholarly than entertaining, is at his best: zippy tempos prevail (in fact, the finale to Act 1 is faster than I've ever heard it--a remarkable example of how well rehearsed the performance is); vocal lines are ornamented wisely (not the old fashioned way, with big high notes at the end of arias and scenes, but rather within the numbers themselves); and the opera comes across as charming.
This work can seem like hectoring and can be somewhat cruel; the choice of singers, tempos, and overall outlook makes it concentrate on the love story and the peculiarities of East meeting West. The Transylvania State Philharmonic Choir, Cluj is superb, singing at times at a whisper very accurately and offering real personality, and the Virtuosi Brunensis plays with vigor. The recording is fine, with voices always audible and well-balanced. If you're in need of a L'Italiana, this one will please you, particularly at half the price of the others; otherwise the Larmore/Teldec release is the best cast, overall.
--Robert Levine, ClassicsToday.com
It took me only a few seconds of listening to realise that there was likely to be something special about this recording. The Overture is so well known and often played, but here it comes up with the kind of invigorating freshness and brightness that brings an immediate grin to your face. Partly this is due to the use of the recent critical edition by Azio Corghi, whose changes of flute to piccolo in the
allegro section, and detailed changes of phrasing throughout are entirely for the better, but it is due even more to the sheer rhythmic grace and suppleness of the playing. Alberto Zedda may have been nearly 80 when this recording was made but you would never guess it from the results. The orchestra sounds to be of an appropriate size for the work – not on historic instruments, I understand, but certainly historically informed - and it has been recorded in an acoustic which appropriately feels like the kind of medium-sized opera-house that Rossini would have expected.
Apart from Lawrence Brownlee the cast is not as starry as other versions of the work, but what is much more important is that the majority of the soloists are native speakers of Italian and all have clearly been thoroughly rehearsed together as an ensemble. Brownlee sings with grace and manliness - an uncommon quality in this role. Bruno de Simone and Lorenzo Regazzo have voices which are clearly distinguishable from each other and both are masters of Rossini’s writing for comic basses. The ladies are perhaps less individual, Marianna Pizzolato in particular lacking the kind of vivid characterisation that we find in recordings with, say, Marilyn Horne or Jennifer Larmore. Nonetheless she sings with great beauty where required, and at all times communicates the dramatic situation to the audience. It is indeed this quality of communication which makes the recording special. There is no sense of a routine run-through; instead there is the freshness of apparent new discovery.
This is wholly appropriate as
L’Italiana in Algeri was written when the composer was only twenty-one. He had written nine operas before it but here reveals himself for the first time as a complete master of writing for the stage and one determined to make this clear to the audience. The special merit of this performance is that the performers are clearly working as an ensemble. It was recorded at live performances but the only significant adverse effects are very occasional moments of ragged ensemble and the brief applause at the end of some, but not all, numbers. On the other hand the very positive effect is the palpable sense of involvement in the performance from everyone involved.
Naxos have recorded a number of Rossini operas at the Wildbad Festival already, but this is by some way the best I have heard so far. No libretto is included with the set and that on their website is in Italian only. There is however a detailed and helpfully cued synopsis which is some consolation - although in a comic opera you really do need to be able to understand all the words to appreciate it as the composer intended.
-- John Sheppard, MusicWeb International