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Regional Reviews: Florida - West Coast

L'Italiana in Algeri
Sarasota Opera
Review by William S. Oser | Season Schedule

Also see Bill's reviews of Big Fish and The Bridges of Madison County

Hak Soo Kim, Tara Venditti, and Harold Wilson
Photo by Rod Millington
The second production of Sarasota Opera's Winter Season is Rossini's L'Italiana in Algeri (The Italian Girl in Algiers). Sarasota Opera is one of the delights of the arts scene in this area. They have found a formula that mixes standard repertoire with unusual fare to offer something for everyone, and they do it so consistently well that they are a destination company, meaning each of the three major opera tour companies offers a tour package every year. When I was trying to decide where to settle in Florida, a chance visit to this company to catch a performance of a favorite opera of mine, Lakmé, made it easy. I have been anticipating this event since the company announced it last year, as Rossini is probably my favorite opera composer and L'Italiana in Algeri most likely my favorite of his operas.

Conductor Anthony Barrese gets things off to a great start with a finely judged performance of the overture, full of Rossini's trademark sudden loud chords and rushing melodic invention. The orchestra, aside from a few smudged woodwind solos at the performance I attended which quickly got under better control, play very well. New Year's Eve day, The Metropolitan Opera broadcast this same opera, conducted by their Music Director Emeritus, James Levine, and this performance matches up pretty darned well, a great testament to Maestro Barrese.

Rossini makes great demands on his singers, and we happen to be living in an era where we have many world class Rossini and Bel Canto specialists. The entire Sarasota cast, while not on that international level, all acquit themselves well to make for a totally enjoyable performance. Tara Venditti is our titular heroine Isabella. This is one of those mezzo coloratura roles that has attracted many great artists of the past, so the voices of Marilyn Horne Teresa Berganza and Eva Podleś are strongly in my ear singing this music. Ms. Venditti sings a very solid account of this fiendishly difficult part. Harold Wilson as Mustafà is a strong physical presence, tall and imposing. He smudges the almost impossible runs that the composer asks, as comic basses have for hundreds of years before him.

Hak Soo Kim sings a decent account of the lover Lindoro, but we have three tenors on an international level who eat these Rossini parts for breakfast, lunch and dinner, so perhaps my ears are spoiled. His stage presence is a bit stiff, what we used to refer to as opera acting. On the other hand, Bruno Taddia as Taddeo, another would-be suitor for Isabella, owns the stage. I reviewed a local performer a few months ago by saying he swept everyone around him off the stage and promised that I would never appear on stage with him because I wouldn't stand a chance. I have much the same feelings for Mr. Taddia, and his singing is very well schooled. His credits show him singing all over Europe and the world and it seems his home base is Pavia, Italy. He is to the manner born, opera and the Italian language is simply in his blood. Sarasota Opera Apprentice Artists cover the roles of Elvira (Jessica E. Jones), Zulma (Fleur Barron), and Haly (Alexander Charles Boyd) credibly.

Stage director Mark Freiman has staged a lively account of this hilarious piece. The finale to act one has everyone all confused and imitating sounds (Lindoro a crow, Elvira bells, Mustafà a cannon, etc.). The direction clearly delineates what is going on and the audience I attended with was laughing out loud. Later in act two, the Kaimakan and Pappataci sequences are equally funny. Sweet and simple, the directing makes the show as funny as it should be. Michael Schweikardt provides atmospheric settings, we are clearly in Moorish territory. Costumes by Howard Tsvi Kaplan are equally effective, and lighting designs by Ken Yunker complete the production. It is right down the middle, a lovely representation that Rossini would recognize.

I was brought up on a steady diet of live opera. Raised in Boston, I got to attend Sarah Caldwell's Opera Company of Boston performances, many of them with world class singers. By the time I graduated high school I had seen 25 live operas and later spent a few years working for a large opera company where I only got further immersed. I love live opera, I am less inclined to sit down and watch an opera video. There is something about the richness of a live orchestra in the same space that you are in, how the sound envelopes you in a way that recorded sound never quite does. I am so lucky to get to go to Sarasota Opera regularly. It is incredible that a region (Sarasota/Manatee) of only 700,000 people can have a company this fine. L'Italiana in Algeri is a wonderful opera and the production is lively fun from start to finish.

Already in repertoire is Madama Butterfly with Dialogues des Carmelites by Francis Poulenc opening March 4 and L'amore dei tre re by Italo Montemezzi coming on March 11.

Sarasota Opera presents Rossini's L'Italiana in Algeri through March 25, 2017, at 61 N. Pineapple Avenue, Sarasota. For tickets and information call (941) 366-8450 or visit

Cast: Mustafà: Harold Wilson
Elvira: Jessica E. Jones*
Zulma: Fleur Barron*
Haly: Alexander Charles Boyd*
Lindoro: Hak Soo Kim**
Isabella: Tara Venditti
Taddeo: Bruno Taddia
*==Sarasota Opera Apprentice Artist
**The Jan Schmidt Endowed Artist

Conductor: Anthony Barrese
Stage Director: Mark Freiman
Scenic Designer: Howard Tsvi Kaplan
Lighting Designer: Ken Yunker
Hair & Make -Up Designer: Joanne Middleton Weaver
Chorus Master: Roger L. Bingaman
Assistant Conductors: Elena Kholodava
Steven Aguiló-Arbues
Jesse Martins
Surtitle Supplier: Words for Music
Surtitle Translator: Stephanie Sundine

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