L’italiana in Algeri
In this popular comic opera, a strong woman outwits her kidnapper using both her intelligence and charm.
L'italiana in Algeri
Dramma giocoso in two acts by Gioachino Rossini
Libretto by Angelo Anelli based on text by Luigi Mosca
Sung in Italian with English surtitles
Teatro San Benedetto, Venice, 1813
Mustafà, the Bey of Algiers, has become dissatisfied with his wife Elvira and decides to marry her off to Lindoro, his Italian slave. However, Lindoro’s true love is Isabella, who he has left behind in Italy. Unbeknownst to Lindoro, Isabella is on her way to Algiers when her ship is caught in the storm and they are forced to land.
Isabella is delighted to see Lindoro, but finds him being held captive by Mustafà who in turn becomes infatuated with Isabella. However, Isabella is more than a match for Mustafà and he falls completely under her spell. She soon manipulates him into believing that he has her heart. By getting the guards drunk and charming the sailors, Isabella and Lindoro escape back to Italy. Mustafà realises he has been hoodwinked and promises to remain faithful to his wife in future.
Background / The Opera
As the first writer to recognize the genius of Rossini, Stendhal was also the first to leave a famous account of L’italiana in Algeri. He rightly saw it as an opera that even without star performers can produce a sweeping excitement … a kind of musical frenzy that takes hold of orchestra and audience alike, whirling one and all away on waves of uncontrollable delight.’ It was Italiana that in 1813 established the young Rossini as a master of comic opera, just as only two months earlier Tancredi had confirmed him as a master of serious opera, or opera seria. In the 20th century, it was also Italiana that helped to re-establish Rossini’s reputation, which on the international scene had at one point dwindled to the occasional Il Barbiere di Siviglia.
Rossini had already completed ten operas when, at the age of 21, he composed Italiana in ten days. Although Rossini always wrote with prolific ease, here he was under pressure to fill a gap in the schedule of the Teatro San Benedetto in Venice, and so adapted the libretto of an existing opera (Luigi Mosca’s work of the same name). There was nothing unusual about a composer doing that, but Rossini established an unprecedented chemistry with the words. The result, which quickly overshadowed the earlier opera, was an instant success. It remains one of Rossini’s most popular works, still admired now if less for the absurd plot than for the brilliant, witty music.
If Rossini was transforming the previously mundane into the magnificently manic, he was doing so by taking Mozart as his guide. The Austrian composer was one who inspired Rossini to new possibilities, of which no other Italian composer of his generation could conceive. But despite Italiana’s spectacular success, the coming few years would not be easy for the composer, caught up as he was in the politics that follow the collapse of Napoleon’s power in Italy. Rossini’s fondness for mockery would have to wait again to find full expression — and to produce more ‘uncontrollable delight’.
Rossini at Wexford Festival Opera include:
- 1956 La Cenerentola
- 1957 L’Italiana in Algeri
- 1959 La Gazza Ladra
- 1964 Il Conte Ory
- 1967 Otello
- 1968 L’Equivoco Stravagante
- 1970 L’Inganno Felice
- 1975 La Pietra del Paragone
- 1986 Tancredi
- 2009 La cambiale di matrimonio
- 2019 Adina