The Italian Girl in Algiers, Opera by G. Rossini
L’italiana in Algeri (The Italian Girl in Algiers), Gioachino Rossini’s eleventh opera, was written at the composer’s usual breakneck speed. Still only twenty-one years old when the work was premiered on 22 May 1813, at the Teatro San Benedetto in Venice, Rossini claimed that he created L’italiana in Algeri in just eighteen days.
Although some commentators suggest that he probably took a little longer, there is no doubting Rossini’s youthful confidence, an attribute that seems to have carried over into his characterisation of the opera’s heroine. Despite becoming the latest addition to Mustafà’s harem in Algiers, Isabella seems completely oblivious to her peril. Even with the complication of her aged protector, Taddeo, believing, somewhat ridiculously, that he can rival both Mustafà and her imprisoned fiancé, Lindoro, for her attentions, Isabella has her captors wrapped around her finger and calmly hatches a plan to escape the chieftain’s palace.
The plot of L’italiana in Algeri is evidence of the early nineteenth-century’s continuing fascination for Turquerie; an obsession with the exotic and strange that emerged out of Europe’s centuries-old clash of cultures with the Ottoman Empire. Whether intended or not, Rossini’s opera plays out like a metaphor for conquering our fears of the unknown, with humour and guile acting as our guide.
As one would expect of Rossini, the music is bright, cheerful and melodious throughout, and while it has his very singular, immediately recognisable stamp, Rossini did not work in a bubble; in the score there are clear traces of both Haydn and Beethoven, composers that Rossini clearly admired, albeit written with Rossini’s supreme sense of what makes for comedy in music.
Vienna has seen many revivals of this magical dramma giocoso. This season audiences should prepare to be seduced by Isabella’s charms once again as L’italiana in Algeri returns to the stage of the Wiener Staatsoper.