L’Italiana in Algeri, Opera by G. Rossini
The 21-year-old Gioachino Rossini had his hands full, completing four operas within a year, each of them a jewel in his comedic crown. Still, only one of those operas maintained its currency and popularity through the years. L’italiana in Algeri (The Italian Girl in Algiers), Rossini’s early drama giocoso masterpiece, will shine again in the city of its successful debut, but this time at the Gran Teatro La Fenice.
Rossini, noted for his rigorous work ethic, picked up a commission from Venice’s Teatro San Benedetto when Carlo Coccio failed to deliver a completed opera on time. Racing against the clock, Rossini took the already existing libretto by Angelo Annelli, which had served as the basis for an earlier opera of the same name by Luigi Mosca. In less than a month, the ultimate operatic version of L’italiana in Algeri was finalised.
Despite the mad rush, Rossini’s compositional work in this opera is impeccable, and it already shows many of the elements that would make him one of the undisputed masters of the opera buffa. The orchestral passages are up-tempo and brim-full of energy, and the ensemble numbers are full of clever hooks, like repetitions and other sound effects, that entertain and stimulate.
L’italiana in Algeri follows Isabella, a beautiful, brave, and intelligent young woman on a mission to save her lover, Lindoro, from Mustafà, the Bey of Algiers, who holds him as hostage. Through a series of comical situations, in which she uses her wit and her charm, Isabella frees Lindoro and triumphs over the Bey. The happy ending is as satisfying as it is entertaining and funny, in true Rossini fashion.
Isabella, a mezzo-soprano, is a role which would become characteristic of many of Rossini’s works. A master of the female middle register, he made extensive use of the unique richness and expression potentials of this particular voice. Vocal parts like Isabella’s paved the way for what we call ‘coloratura mezzo-soprano’ today, and the operatic world is all the richer because of Rossini’s exploration of this domain.
The premiere at Teatro San Benedetto in Venice on 22 May 1813 was a fantastic success, with lasting ovations and rave reviews. Ever since then, L’italiana in Algeri is an opera buffa favourite and a lasting testament to Gioachino Rossini’s productivity and immense musical gift.