October 20, 2006
Volume 34
Issue 42
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Wednesday, Jan 20, 2021



Many delights at Seattle Opera's 'L'Itaniana in Algeri'
Many delights at Seattle Opera's 'L'Itaniana in Algeri'
by Rod Parke - SGN A&E Writer

It's not unusual at Seattle Opera that the "second" cast (matinees and Friday nights) equals or exceeds the opening night cast of a new production. That certainly was the case with Rossini's 'L'Italiana in Algeri' last weekend, a sparkling confection that runs through October 28th. The vocal and comic wealth of both performances was something to put an average night at New York's Metropolitan Opera to shame. (Just listen to the four live performances a week from the Met on Sirius Satellite Radio, channel 85, to hear for yourself. Even the opening night 'Butterfly' was plagued with lead singers with big wobbles, making each note an ugly dance AROUND the intended note, removing any chance for dramatic expression, let alone musical phrasing. To me, nothing makes opera less appealing than such singers. But I digress&)

Rossini wrote his 'The Italian Girl in Algiers' in a couple weeks when he was 21. Although the second act falls short of the joyous brilliance of the first, the opera remains a miracle of sunny musical exhilaration. His music sounds simple, yet few conductors manage its rhythmic wit with the ease and effectiveness of Edoardo Muller, no stranger to Seattle audiences since 1991. His guidance is always self-effacing and directly on target. This opera is full of tricky ensemble numbers, which went generally very well. As usual, the chorus was a major factor in this success. We're lucky to have Muller so often.

The plot of such an opera (opera buffo) is merely an excuse to provide opportunities for fun and great singing. Both casts provide lots of both. Chris Alexander's sometimes over-the-top direction nonetheless has many inspired moments, and the sets and costumes from Santa Fe Opera are fanciful and so effective that the pop-up-book set got several ovations. (I confess I had not figured out that the number 14 at the left of the pop-up was in fact the page number, and the oriental rug at the right corner was a bookmark.)

The singing could hardly have been better. Stephanie Blythe's amazing voice is familiar to Seattle from her unequalled Fricka in Wagner's 'Ring,' as well as in a somewhat less successful 'Carmen.' But this was our first chance to see her in a coloratura role. She did not disappoint. Both as a comedienne and in the fast vocal ornaments, she triumphed, all the while appearing to have a great time on stage. The sheer warmth and size of her voice were phenomenal. Her matinee counterpart, Helene Schneiderman, was almost as effective even if she of course lacked Blythe's singular instrument.

What an embarrassment of riches we had in our two tenors! On Saturday night William Burden was everything one could wish for: lovely voice, handsome appearance, graceful stage presence, and fine coloratura facility. Yet, at Sunday's matinee, Lawrence Brownlee eclipsed that performance with one that nearly stopped the show. Gone was his former awkwardness. He reveled in the comic antics and sang with a beauty and ease that is not surpassed anywhere in the world today. The gold standard in Rossini tenors is Juan Diego Florez, whom I have heard many times both live and recorded. Much as I adore Florez, I have to say that Brownlee matched the world champ in facility and exceeded him in vocal beauty. What a thrill he gave us!

Speaking of riches in voices, I have never heard an Elvira to equal what we got in both performances from the great Sally Wolf. Usually one hears a light lyric soprano with a bright silvery tone. Instead Ms. Wolf flooded the hall with her rich, warm, and absolutely gorgeous sound. As her maid, debutante Melissa Parks sounded a little impure in comparison.

Our two Mustafas were both excellent comedians, the best I've seen in this role. But Saturday's Simone Alberghini (debut) was a little underpowered and dry of tone. Far better was the debut Sunday of Kevin Burdette, who not only could be heard easily at all times but had a warmer, richer voice and better coloratura skill. Both were handsome and slender in a role that is usually a fat buffoon, but they put the buffoonery into their acting and singing to great effect.

The one vocal disappointment was familiar young baritone Earle Patriarco. While he wasn't bad overall, he lacked the rhythmic precision that Rossini's music requires to bring out the wit of the music. He also appeared tentative vocally in his second act aria. (He was, however, the strongest singer in Seattle Opera's presentation of Puccini's 'Manon Lescaut.') The other less-than-spectacular

performance came from the debut of baritone George Mosley as Haly, who has an aria in the second act. Competently sung but boring.

Anything but boring was the playing of the members of Seattle Symphony. Both Mark Robbins' horn solo in the Act I tenor aria and the oboe delights of the overture were parts of performances that left the audiences smiling and happy.

Reviewer Rod Parke can be reached at

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