Will Isabella succeed in saving her lover Lindoro, enslaved by the wicked Bey of Algiers? For Rossini’s two-act dramma giocoso, first performed in Venice in 1813, Stéphane Lissner called in Italians Riccardo Frizza (musical director) and Toni Servillo (director) for their Aix-en-Provence début.
Exasperated by the passivity of Elvira, his favourite, Mustafa, Bey of Algiers, decides to make a change: he will send her off to Italy with an Italian slave, and in exchange corsair captain Haly will obtain for his master a young lady – an Italian – with a more fiery temperament. Enter Lindoro, languishing for his homeland and his lost love. As the Bey’s slave he cannot refuse to be used as a bargaining counter. Meanwhile, on the coast not far from Algiers, Haly is organising the pillaging of a shipwreck. Among the survivors is a charming young Italian woman: Isabella – Lindoro’s fiancée, no less – who has set off in search of her lover in the company of Taddeo, her unhappy suitor.
Director Toni Servillo is undeterred by the kitsch exoticism of these Orientalist goings-on and their backdrop of East-West misunderstanding. His handling of the actors stresses facial expressiveness, with results that are often very amusing. “Rather than trying a facile update,” he says, he has set out to “create a performance that safeguards the profoundly musical essence of this masterpiece.”
A striking Isabella, Dutch mezzo-soprano Christianne Stotijn winningly deploys a full-bodied low register, while Russian tenor Maxim Mironov is a model of subtle sensitivity. The young cast is rounded off perfectly by Italians Marco Vinco (Mustafa) and Giorgio Caoduro (Taddeo).
Riccardo Frizza is thirty-five; a specialist in Italian opera since the beginning of his career, he is the first conductor since Claudio Abbado to use the Mahler Chamber Orchestra for Rossini. His recent recording with Peruvian tenor Juan Diego Florez of airs by Donizetti and Bellini has received an enthusiastic critical reception.