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L'italiana in Algeri (The Italian Girl in Algiers) is an operatic dramma giocoso in two acts by Gioachino Rossini to an Italian libretto by Angelo Anelli, based on his earlier text set by Luigi Mosca. It premiered at the Teatro San Benedetto in Venice on 22 May 1813. The music is characteristic of Rossini's style, remarkable for its fusion of sustained, manic energy with elegant, pristine melodies.
Rossini wrote L'italiana in Algeri when he was 21. The opera was composed in either 18 or 27 days, depending on which source one believes (Rossini, not surprisingly, pegged it at 18). Rossini entrusted the composition of the recitatives as well as the aria "Le femmine d'Italia" to an unknown collaborator. The opera is notable for Rossini's mixing of opera seria style with opera buffa. The overture is widely recorded and performed today, known for its distinct opening of slow, quiet pizzicato basses, leading to a sudden loud burst of sound from the full orchestra. This "surprise" reflects Rossini's early admiration for Joseph Haydn, whose Symphony No. 94 in G major, "The Surprise Symphony", is so named for the same shocking and semi-comic effect.
The work was first performed at the Teatro San Benedetto, Venice on 22 May 1813. It was a notable success and Rossini made progressive changes to the work for later performances in Vicenza, Milan and Naples, during the following two years.
The opera was first presented in London at His Majesty's Theatre on 28 January 1819 and on 5 November 1832 in New York. Having fallen somewhat out of favour as the 19th Century progressed, notable performances of the opera were presented from the 1920s in "Turin (1825), Rome (1927) and London (1935)"  and it has been revived frequently after World War II with many successful productions. It is performed regularly in the 21st Century with 48 productions being presented in 43 cities since January 2009.  One notable production was given at The Santa Fe Opera in 2002 with Stephanie Blythe as Isabella. 
|Role||Voice type||Premiere Cast, 22 May 1813|
(Conductor: – )
|Isabella, the Italian girl||contralto||Marietta Marcolini|
|Lindoro, in love with Isabella||tenor||Serafino Gentili|
|Taddeo, an elderly Italian||bass||Paolo Rosich|
|Mustafà, the Bey of Algiers||bass||Filippo Galli|
|Elvira, his wife||soprano||Luttgard Annibaldi|
|Zulma, her confidante||mezzo-soprano||Annunziata Berni Chelli|
|Haly, the captain of the Bey's guard||bass||Giuseppe Spirito|
|Harem women (silent); Eunuchs, pirates, slaves, sailors – Male chorus|
In the palace of the Bey of Algiers. Elvira (soprano), accompanied by her slave Zulma (mezzo), regrets the loss of the love of her husband, the Turkish Bey Mustafà (bass). Left alone with Haly (bass), Captain of the Corsairs, Mustafà reveals his plan to marry Elvira off to Lindoro, his Italian slave. The Bey is bored with his submissive harem, desiring a new challenge to his virility: he wants an Italian girl, and Haly must find one! Lindoro (tenor) enters alone and sings about Isabella, his true love, 'Languir per una bella'. Mustafà comes in to explain Lindoro's impending marriage. The enthusiastic Bey describes the attractions of the match, while Lindoro struggles to refuse.
The scene changes to the seashore, where a ship has been wrecked in a storm. Its passengers include Isabella (contralto), in search of Lindoro, and Taddeo (bass), her travelling companion and would-be lover. Isabella enters with a sorrowful cavatina 'Cruda sorte! Amor tiranno!', however she is not afraid and will master the situation. Haly and his men take them prisoner. She passes off Taddeo as her uncle. Haly is delighted to learn she is an Italian – exactly what the Bey wanted! Left to consider their fate, Isabella is irritated by Taddeo's jealousy of Lindoro, but they resolve to join forces.
Back in the palace, Lindoro and Elvira do not wish to marry, but Mustafà offers Lindoro passage on a ship returning to Italy if he takes Elvira. Lindoro agrees, admitting a vague possibility of marrying her in Italy. Haly enters with news of the arrival of the Italian beauty. Mustafà is elated, 'Già d'insolito ardore nel petto agitare'.
Surrounded by eunuchs, Mustafà receives Isabella in a grand hall. He is enchanted. At that moment, Lindoro, Elvira and Zulma arrive to say goodbye to Mustafà. Lindoro and Isabella are astonished to come face to face. Recovering herself, Isabella asks about Elvira, learning she is Mustafà's ex-wife, to be remarried to Lindoro!
In the palace. Elvira and Zulma (who have remained in Algiers after all) note Isabella's skill with men. Mustafà reveals his strategy for seducing Isabella: he installs Lindoro as Isabella's servant and his informer, and Taddeo will also be induced to help. Elvira and Zulma must tell Isabella he is coming to take coffee with her.
Isabella and Lindoro are alone. He explains that he had no intention of marrying Elvira. They agree to escape together and Lindoro sings of his happiness, 'Ah come il cor di giubilo'. Mustafà enters with a reluctant Taddeo, acclaimed by the Turks as 'Lord Kaimakan'. He dislikes interceding with Isabella for the Bey, but is frightened to refuse.
In her apartment, Isabella is dressing in Turkish style. Zulma and Elvira deliver Mustafà's message: he is coming for coffee. Isabella orders three cups. Elvira should wait in a side room. As Mustafà approaches, Isabella sings a romantic cavatina, 'Per lui che adoro'. She will receive him. Mustafà tells Taddeo to leave when he sneezes. Isabella greets Mustafà warmly and he sneezes, but Taddeo ignores the signal. Isabella calls for coffee and then – to Mustafà's horror and amazement – invites Elvira to join them.
Elsewhere in the palace, Haly sings in praise of the women of Italy, 'Le femmine d'Italia'. The Italians enter and Taddeo reveals to a surprised Lindoro that he is not her uncle but her lover, himself unaware of the other man's true identity. Lindoro tells Mustafà that Isabella will declare him her adored 'pappataci' (literally a 'silent eater': a man unable to resist the opposite sex). This, as Lindoro explains, is an Italian custom and a great honour, as the 'pappataci' enjoy an idyllic life dedicated to eating, drinking and sleeping. Zulma and Haly speculate about Isabella's real intentions and the quantity of alcohol ordered for the ceremony.
In her apartment, Isabella addresses the Italian slaves who will be 'pappataci' in the ceremony. She will lead them to freedom, 'Pensa alla patria'. The ceremony begins; Mustafà is delighted with his new honour and changes into appropriate costume. Isabella explains his obligations. He must swear an oath of eating, drinking, and keeping silent, repeating the words after Taddeo. Following that his oath is tested, under provocation by Isabella and Lindoro.
A European ship lies alongside the palace: time to escape! Taddeo finally realizes who Lindoro is, but decides to go along with them anyway. Elvira, Zulma and Haly find the Bey still acting as a mad 'pappataci'. Suddenly recovering his sanity, Mustafà calls his troops but they are all drunk. The Italians bid farewell and Mustafà begs Elvira's forgiveness. No more Italian girls for him!
(Isabella, Lindoro, Mustafa, Taddeo)
Opera House and Orchestra
|Carlo Maria Giulini|
La Scala orchestra and chorus
|Audio CD: EMI|
Cat: CHS 7 64041-2
Maggio Musicale Fiorentino
|Audio CD: Decca|
Cat: 475 8285
|1978||Lucia Valentini Terrani,|
|Audio CD: Arts Music|
|1979||Lucia Valentini Terrani,|
|Audio CD: CBS|
Cat: M3T 39048
I Solisti Veneti
|Audio CD: Erato|
|Audio CD: Deutsche Grammophon|
Cat: 427 331-2
John Del Carlo
Lausanne Chamber Orchestra
|Audio CD: Erato|
Cat: 0630 17130-2
Bruno De Simone
Orchestra Teatro Comunale di Bologna
|Video DVD: Dynamic|
Bruno De Simone
Virtuosi Brunensis Orchestra and the Philharmonischer Chor Transilvania Cluj
(Recording of a performance at the Wildbad Festival, 5 July)
|Audio CD: Naxos|