In the "making of" feature (which I watched first), the Sovrintendente of the Rossini Opera Festival Pesaro says that their aim was not to put on a "normal" production of L'Italiana in Algeri, but something experimental and festival-worthy. That led me to expect some sort of wild and wacky production and I was therefore relieved to find that although the action is updated to the 60s/70s, the story is otherwise presented pretty much as Rossini intended.
Director Davide Livermore claims to have taken his inspiration from the comedies of Blake Edwards - eg the Pink Panther series, although there are also a lot of references to the earlier Bond movies and even possibly the original Avengers. It's certainly all very stylish and attractive to look at.
Musically, it's excellent. Anna Goryachova is totally convincing as Isabella. She sings superbly, and also has the personality, looks and figure (which we see quite a lot of!) to make it convincing that all the men fall in love/lust with her - and also that she will succeed in tying them all around her little finger. Alex Esposito as Mustafa, an oil-rich tyrant with a fondness for shooting servants on a whim, is also brilliant, and we see quite a lot of HIS figure as well. Yijie Shi sings well as Lindoro with his bright clear tenor, but he doesn't have quite the same level of charisma as the other two leads, so doesn't make as much impact as he might. One suspects that Isabella would eat him for breakfast. The other roles are all very well taken.
The orchestra play very well for conductor Jose Ramon Encinar, with generally bright and lively tempi. The chorus seem to sing well, but I think that there might have been a problem with the way that they were recorded as their sound often seems to be somewhat muffled, and they're frequently drowned out in the ensemble passages. Another small negative is that the production has quite a lot of peripheral comic business going on, but the Video Director doesn't really let us see it properly, which is a bit disappointing.
Sound and pictures are both superb. Technical details: 24-bit LPCM Stereo and DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1.
All in all however, a very stylish and entertaining release.
Their productions might not be to everyone's taste, but every year the Rossini Opera Festival in Pesaro consistently show that they have the composer's best interests at heart and, better than anyone else, they really understand how to get great neglected works by Rossini across to a modern audience. As the groovy 60s Austin Powers styled the cover of the DVD for his 2013 L'Italiana in Algeri indicates, the approach taken here by director Davide Livermore is playful and imaginative but also completely faithful to the intentions and the spirit of the work. This is not a serious classical work, it's meant to raise huge laughs from its audience.
Livermore's point of reference for translating the work to a modern context - exactly 200 years after the work was first performed - is found in the films of Blake Edwards. (The Austin Powers movies are also clearly an influence, but they themselves are heavily indebted to Blake Edwards' Pink Panther movies). It sees Lindoro as a secret-agent super-spy on a special mission, who is inadvertently caught by the henchmen of the nasty foreign evil-villain Mustafà and, perhaps unaware of his secret identity, is put into the Bey's service as one of his underlings. Just before he is captured however, Lindoro Powers manages to send off an SOS to his super-sexy sixties-styled sidekick Isabella, who comes to Algeria to his rescue. Finding herself embroiled in Mustafà's power games as he attempts to offload his wife Elvira in favour of this groovy chick who has just arrived from Italy. She's going to need to play clever to get out of this one without causing a major international incident.
The idea is a great one, and there's a lot to enjoy in the fun production, but the execution unfortunately doesn't entirely live up to the promise. Davide Livermore is a good opera director, but it seems he's not such a good comedy director. He's no Blake Edwards and he doesn't have a Peter Sellers or even a Mike Myers to work with here and everyone just seems to be trying just too hard to have fun. Having set the scene, it would be enough to let the comic situation of L'Italiana in Algeri play out mostly for itself with all the terrific 60s and 70s styles and haircuts and all the psychedelic effects and colouration, but Livermore insists on trying to make it even funnier. The stage is consequently often cluttered with too much going on, and there's a lot of effort and elaboration is put into making a gag look cheap, but in a way that is disproportionate to how funny it actually is.
It's still a colourful and an entertaining production, just never quite as funny as it thinks it is (although you could probably say the same about L'Italiana in Algeri). The performance itself is likewise good, but not outstanding. The singing is fine and musically the performance is in safe hands with José Ramón Encinar conducting, but the work is missing a spark somewhere. The singing is all good, with Yijie Shi a capable Lindoro, Anna Goryachova a sassy Isabella wearing jaw-dropping outfits, and Alex Esposito is a spirited Mustafà with a tendency to badly overact, but no-one here has a personality big enough to really bring the roles to life.
The quality of the Blu-ray is good, showing off the bold colours of the production well enough, but it doesn't look quite as pinpoint sharp this time. The audio too I found a little bit low in volume, but the sound is well-recorded and all the detail is there, particularly if listened to on headphones. There's a ten-minute extra feature on the making of the production, and a cast gallery. The disc is all-region, BD50, with subtitles in English, French, German and Korean.
Enjoyable take on this Rossini romp. Anyone thinking opera is for old f***s should give this a look. Certainly raised an eyebrow compared to the stage productions I've seen. Don't think purists would like the staging but always good to see a different perspective.