The moment you walk into the house for Garsington’s L’italiana in Algeri, you know you’re in the Muslim East. More Moghul India than Algiers, strictly speaking, but who’s to argue: George Souglides’ set is one of the cleverest I’ve seen in years: a single white, giant, organically curved shape forms lookout point, staircase for grand entrances, platform for dance moves and more; gilded pillars and lamps abound, decorated in iconically Islamic patterns. A gentle fountain adds a note of calm into the otherwise madcap proceedings. Souglides’ costume designs are a riot of colourful cheerfulness: faux orientalism meets La dolce vita.

© Johan Persson
© Johan Persson
Director Will Tuckett must have worked his cast like slaves in a Barbary coast galley, because the attention to movement detail is phenomenal. Principals and chorus are constantly in motion, constantly producing stylish patterns on stage that shift and swirl as the comedy unfolds. It’s a great piece of stage direction all round.

This is David Parry’s tenth Rossini opera for Garsington, and it shows in an assured musical performance that’s full of sparks and sparkle – albeit without ever quite bursting into full flame. Parry makes the most of the grace and the deft touches in the score: the oboe phrases, the horn calls and the many delicate pizzicato string interludes all come through with grace. But you sense that Parry is trying to avoid laying it on too thick, and I could have done with a few more moments of complete musical abandon to go with the extrovert staging.

Ezgi Kutlu(Isabella), Luciano Botelho (Lindoro) © Johan Persson
Ezgi Kutlu(Isabella), Luciano Botelho (Lindoro)
© Johan Persson
Rossini being Rossini, you await the big entrance arias eagerly. In Lindoro’s “Languir per una bella”, Luciano Botelho did not disappoint. He has an ideal voice for a Rossinian tenor: clear, urgent, with just the right touch of a quiver. With the exception of a touch of buzziness when he pushes the high notes too hard, it’s an attractive voice across the range. He was especially impressive when switching from into the buffo patter numbers: Botelho maintains his lyrical singing voice through the rapid semiquaver runs, allowing you hear the melodic line soar through the patter, whereas when the going got tough, everyone else in the cast switched voices to something far closer to speech. This was particularly the case for Quirijn de Lang as Mustafà: Parry and Tuckett’s idea works well of making Mustafà young, capricious and dangerous (rather than the traditional straight buffoon) and de Lang has a strong baritone singing voice that supports this, but his semi-spoken voice in the buffo numbers didn’t impress nearly as much.

We’re well into Act I before the entrance of Isabella (the Italian girl of the title) with her recitative and aria, “Cruda sorte...Per te solo, o mio Lindoro”, so she is called upon to make a real impact, both musically and dramatically. Ezgi Kutlu did exactly that, with a mezzo voice that’s creamy smooth low down and capable of plenty of brightness and punch high up (which Rossini doesn’t use all that much in this score). And Kutlu displayed bags of personality, taking command of proceedings with suitable feminine wiles (or, at least, a 19th-century caricature of them) exactly as the piece demands. Look out for her in future.

Mustafà’s wife Elvira gets a raw deal from the story and, to be honest, from the score: Mary Bevan took her best chance to shine in the ensemble pieces, a clear voice soaring above the rest. Amongst a generally high quality set of supporting singers, Riccardo Novaro was engaging as the hapless Taddeo.

Quirijn de Lang (Mustafà) © Johan Persson
Quirijn de Lang (Mustafà)
© Johan Persson
The theme of L’italiana in Algeri is the traditional commedia dell’arte “clever soubrette gets the better of wealthy, unfaithful man” trope; the details are sufficiently silly not to bear repeating here. The evening’s entertainment relies on the personalities of the performers and the sparkle of the music: this performance did enough to make a thoroughly enjoyable evening without stating a strong case for L’italiana to displace more frequently performed Rossini operas such as Il barbiere di Siviglia – or, for that matter, Il turco in Italia. The home leg of Rossini’s “Italian girl - Turkish guy” fixture is a stronger piece and will be returning to Garsington next year. I’ll be there.

***11