Pensa alla patria: L’Italiana in Algeri at the Wiener Staatsoper

Rossini – l’Italiana in Algeri

Mustafà – Ildar Abdrazakov

Lindoro – Juan Diego Flórez

Isabella – Anna Bonitatibus

Elvira – Aida Garifullina

Zulma – Rachel Frenkel

Haly – Mihail Dogotari

Taddeo – Paolo Rumetz

Chor der Wiener Staatsoper, Orchester der Wiener Staatsoper / Jesús López Cobos

Stage director – Jean-Pierre Ponnelle.

After the bleakness of last night’s Bartók a little light relief was very welcome and with this Italiana we certainly got it.  It fizzled and scintillated in the most remarkable way.  Indeed, given that this was the first night of the run and given the Wiener Staatsoper’s reputation as a venue where shows are done on minimal rehearsal, the genuine and very real sense of ensemble that we had tonight was really quite remarkable.  The orchestral playing was by and large unanimous and the cast tackled their tricky ensembles with aplomb.  And what a cast we had tonight.

Anna Bonitatibus (Isabella), Ildar Abdrazakov (Mustafà) (c) Wiener Staatsoper / Michael Pöhn
Anna Bonitatibus (Isabella), Ildar Abdrazakov (Mustafà)
(c) Wiener Staatsoper / Michael Pöhn

An announcement was made at the start of the evening for Anna Bonitatibus’ Isabella.  It was clear that she was not well as there were times when she was obviously coughing on stage.  Yet, had the announcement not been made, I doubt many would have noticed.  Yes, she was perhaps pacing herself more than she might have normally but the top of the voice gleamed quite wonderfully, aided by her spectacular ornamentation.  What I love about her singing is the sheer musicality that is at the core of everything that she does.  She is a true musician who lives and breathes her art and her stylistic awareness is impeccable.  Her ‘cruda sorte’ was dispatched with ease, ‘pensa alla patria’ was breathtaking in its virtuosity with crystalline coloratura.  But for me, the most satisfying was her ‘per lui che adoro’, sung with exquisitely long lines, apparently effortless breath control and highly sensitive ornamentation.  Tonight was a supreme example of how a rock solid technique can transcend even the most difficult circumstances.  A truly remarkable artist.

Juan Diego Flórez (Lindoro) (c) Wiener Staatsoper / Michael Pöhn
Juan Diego Flórez (Lindoro)
(c) Wiener Staatsoper / Michael Pöhn

I was very interested to hear Juan Diego Flórez after not having had the opportunity for a couple years.  His was a vibrant, puppyish presence on stage, throwing himself completely into the role and he looked like he was having a wonderful time.  The voice is clearly changing and I was fascinated to hear the difference.  I have always found him to have a narrow, penetrating sound – ideally matched for these high-lying, florid Rossini roles.  Tonight, one was aware that the higher register didn’t quite come as naturally as it once did as if he was trying a different placement of the voice.  The vibrations at the very top were also a little wider than they have been in the past.  My feeling is the next few years are going to be very interesting to watch the development of his career as he ventures into more lyrical repertoire such as Edgardo in Lucia. 

Ildar Abdrazakov (Mustafà) (c) Wiener Staatsoper / Michael Pöhn
Ildar Abdrazakov (Mustafà)
(c) Wiener Staatsoper / Michael Pöhn

Ildar Abdrazakov also completely threw himself into the role of Mustafà striking sparks off his relationship with Bonitatibus’ Isabella and Flórez’ Lindoro.  The voice has a wonderful bloom and evenness throughout the range.  It’s a richly rounded sound that can also turn the corners quite easily.  He also, like his castmates, made much of the text.  The act 2 trio with Flórez and Paolo Rumetz’ Taddeo was showstopping.

Juan Diego Flórez (Lindoro ), Ildar Abdrazakov (Mustafà), Paolo Rumetz (Taddeo) (c) Wiener Staatsoper / Michael Pöhn
Juan Diego Flórez (Lindoro ), Ildar Abdrazakov (Mustafà), Paolo Rumetz (Taddeo)
(c) Wiener Staatsoper / Michael Pöhn

Rumetz was superb.  The voice and style absolutely spot on.  I was impressed by Aida Garifullina, her bright soprano carrying nicely over the ensembles.  Rachel Frenkel made an impression as Zulma, the voice with a distinctive tanginess, a singer I’d certainly like to hear again.  Mihail Dogotari’s Haly was interesting.  He dispatched his aria nicely and the tone was distinctive.

Anna Bonitatibus (Isabella), Ildar Abdrazakov (Mustafà) (c) Wiener Staatsoper / Michael Pöhn
Anna Bonitatibus (Isabella), Ildar Abdrazakov (Mustafà)
(c) Wiener Staatsoper / Michael Pöhn

The staging itself was decorative with imposing sets.  I felt a little uncomfortable with its stereotypical view of east meets west but so much of this is in the libretto.  The chemistry within the cast was genuine and unmistakable.  The whole thing worked like clockwork despite what I imagine was very limited rehearsal time.  Jesús López Cobos led a scintillating reading that fizzed and sparkled throughout.  There were some very minor lapses in ensemble within the band and occasionally the horn playing was a bit accident prone but these incidents were very minor and the quality of the orchestral sound was unmistakable.

Anna Bonitatibus (Isabella) (c) Wiener Staatsoper / Michael Pöhn
Anna Bonitatibus (Isabella)
(c) Wiener Staatsoper / Michael Pöhn

Just a note about the audience – I lost count of how many photos I saw with flash and there were some very mature matrons who were constantly talking.  It’s hard to police things like this but the Staatsoper really should do more to limit the use of flash photography during the show.  Perhaps they could publicize production photos with the cast on their website, that way those who might like a souvenir of the show can download one, once they get home.  In a way, both tonight’s Rossini and last night’s Puccini/Bartók double-bill were deeply agreeable experiences for very different reasons.  The latter for searing acting and staging, the former for stunning virtuosity and a sense of a real ensemble cast.  Tonight was blessed with outstanding stylists who gave us a highly satisfying performance with stunning vocalism, so effortlessly virtuosic.  A marvellous evening.

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