If you’re in need of a little sunshine during these grey days, let the flying carpet which forms the centrepiece of this production transport you to a warmer place which bursts with colour and animation. Given that the opera’s story concerns a feisty Italian girl who outwits a would-be suitor with the help not only of the man she loves but the suitor’s existing wife, it’s especially apt that George Souglides’ design for Will Tuckett’s production features a magic carpet, since part of the message of the story of the carpet in the 1,000 Nights is that success comes from working together.
Garsington Opera has always had a strong ensemble focus, and it’s that aspect which really marked out this production; it managed to survive the withdrawal through illness of one of its comic stalwarts, Geoffrey Dolton, and the chorus, under Susanna Stranders’ expert direction, provided much comic delight as well as fine singing. Some of the big ensembles for the main characters may have lacked a little fizz, but most of the singers negotiated the sometimes fiendish music with considerable style.
What a long way Mary Bevan has come, in so short a time since her Zerlina in the house’s 2012 Don Giovanni: she sang Elvira with confidence and managed to avoid overdoing the characterization of a woman who, let’s face it, would have most men casting around for a more cheerful replacement. That would-be replacement in the form of the Italian girl was sung, delightfully, by a Turkish mezzo-soprano, Ezgi Kutlu, for whom the word ‘feisty’ might have been invented. Made up to look like a girl who might have been seen on the back of some gigolo’s Vespa in a 1950s movie, she dominated the stage in her arias, and although she found some of the more florid coloratura a challenge her singing was exciting, clean in phasing and captured some of that sparkle which such roles must possess.
Her Lindoro also faced some challenges, but Luciano Botelho put in a bravura performance; some might find him a less than stylish Rossinian but he delighted the audience with the power of his voice and the directness and sincerity of his phrasing. He faced stiff competition from Quirijn de Lang’s Mustafà, seen here not as a blustering tyrant but a fairly vulnerable figure: his is a beautiful baritone voice, sometimes a little subdued but with exceptional agility and a lovely burnished sheen on the tone. Riccardo Novaro stepped into Geoffrey Dolton’s shoes (or slippers) as Taddeo with remarkable élan, and made a believable figure of a character who can seem a touch on the dull side.
Božidar Smiljanić performed with such confidence as Haly that it was difficult to believe that he has yet to graduate from the Opera Course at the Royal Academy, and Katie Bray was a vibrant Zulma. L’Italiana in Algeri is David Parry’s twelfth Rossini for this company, and his affinity for this music shone in every bar, from the ‘surprise’ phrases in the overture to the rousing final chorus: once more he drew sparkling playing from the Garsington Opera Orchestra.
This was Will Tuckett’s first production for Garsington, and it made the most of the work’s comic possibilities as well as offering a set which was coherent, evocative of its location and superbly lit by Giuseppe di Lorio. Simple in concept, with the central ‘magic carpet’ often beautifully illuminated and the ornate staircase, subtle fountain and fabulously multi-coloured costumes all unified in creating the stage picture, it was an object lesson in how to achieve impressive ends within a quite restrictive framework.