Italian Girl In Algiers

Opera by Rossini.
Oxford Touring Opera, various venues around Oxfordshire, Fri May 23rd 2008 - Sat May 31st 2008

May 26, 2008
Rossini has long been one of my favourite composers and it is always good to see local amateur companies taking on the challenge of his technically demanding music. OTO should be congratulated for having the courage to stage this production.

I saw the performance given at the Holywell Music Room – which is not really best suited to the theatrical presentation of complete operas. The staging had been reworked but occasionally looked cramped and slightly clunky.

Musically-speaking, things were on safer ground. James Longstaffe conducted his own arrangement of the score with confidence and a proper understanding of the lightness of touch required for this composer. The small ensemble of musicians played well – though the balance between instruments and voices was not always perfect.

Rossini had a love affair with the mezzo soprano voice and wrote some of his best music to showcase it. Katherine Cooper showed herself to be ideally suited to this fach – she has the control and technique necessary to shine. Her characterisation and stage presence were spot on for the title role – full of spirit and life.

The other stand-out performance came from Tom West as Taddeo. His words were always clear, his tuning precise and his acting entertaining. Diction is always especially important when singing opera in translation and it is always a delight to hear things clearly enunciated by a talented young singer. The rest of the cast are certainly not poor. They each have good voices and are able to tackle their roles with commendable enthusiasm.

The plot is silly – even by operatic standards – but the music is great and that alone is enough for me – and most music lovers, I would imagine.
A crazy plot, but lovely music! The Italian Girl in Algiers is a treat for Rossini lovers.

For the first few minutes I was somewhat alarmed, as I was unable to hear any of the words in the opening ensemble, but soon the individual soloists began to shine. Rossini presents a musical challenge for the singers, both in terms of range and agility, and all of the main principals coped admirably. Katherine Cooper however stood out in the way she used her vocal fireworks to add to the action! I must confess to a weak spot for tenors, and Jonathan Todd as Lindoro certainly had my heart singing with his top notes.

The accompaniment by the Pavlova Wind Quintet was sensitive and musical. The distance between conductor and ensemble could have been a problem in this venue, but James Longstaffe's control kept the tempi and the phrasing beautifully accurate. Karen McKivitt's direction was simple, and uncluttered, yet allowed the cast to make the most of the comedy.

Bravo! If you want a fun evening, combining gorgeous music with a bit of slapstick (how many ways can you sit gracefully in a hammock?), catch it in Abingdon or Thame!
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