L’ITALIANA IN ALGERI – Thames Tunnel Shaft, London.
There’s a section about five minutes long, just before the end of the first act of L’Italiana In Algeri, where everything about this production is in perfect alignment. That’s not to say the rest of it is out of sync at all, far from it. But this one little bit, where the whole cast are involved in a bit of a farcical audition/wedding confusion, is absolute gold.
The setting is transported to the sequinned and seedy lounges of a creepy modern Vegas casino, rather than the original Bey’s palace of Algiers some time in the early 1800’s. Besides this, we see a few more updates to the story. Adapted to support a cast of six, some non-essential parts have been cut (the head of the Bey’s pirates, for example) and the story streamlined to fit the new Vegas setting, the result is a fun and funny two and a half hours that holds your interest throughout.
Mustafa is the head of the Algiers Casino in Las Vegas. Sleazy, greasy and objectionable, he tries to marry his wife Elvira off to a gambling addict employee, Lindoro. Meanwhile, Lindoro wants out, so has written to the woman he loves, Isabella, to come and help him escape Vegas. Isabella comes with Taddeo, a sweet but simple bumpkin who thinks she loves him and who she manipulates into helping her save Lindoro. Turning into a bit of a comedy of errors, there’s confusion over who loves who, what everyone’s motives are and where everyone’s loyalty (if they have any) lies.
At the end of Act 1, everyone meets in the casino for the first time at Isabella’s showgirl audition. There’s a lot going on visually and dramatically, but the musical performance is focussed and outstanding. The gorgeous bass rhythm ties the Italian Rossini perfectly into this production. Almost like the steady sound of American deep-south moonshine-jug-blowing blues backing, we see the good ol’ boy characteristics of this squabbling group shine through and contribute to an a moment of absolute joy for the audience, but much less so for the hero characters.
It’s a bit of a caper, but one that’s supported by good acting and superb singing. The cast will change for each night, but given the track record of Opera, it’s sensible to have confidence they’ll put on a good show with all their chosen singers. In this production, in the resonant cylindrical chamber of the Rotherhithe Tunnel, a cool new venue that is perfect for this kind of event, there are stand-out performances from Mustafa and Lindoro. As the casino owner, Bruno Loxton is a faded Lothario, an unlikeable buffoon but with a gorgeous singing voice that rumbled through the underground chamber very pleasantly. Oliver Brignall’s Lindoro was just a bit of a sweetheart. Buffeted by the winds of chance, he’s possibly the only character in this version one can really root for. Brignall’s voice too is superb: clear sharp and agile he tackles the serious and the light in Rossini’s score with grace (look out for the excellent ‘Languir per Una Bella’).
The production is a bit frantic, but the company’s charm lies in their adapting to unusual spaces so no one can expect, or indeed desire, a regular or super polished evening. James Hurley’s direction makes the most of the space and audience layout to envelop us and make us co-conspirators in the antics. With a tour announced and dates available in some excellent locations, the company is certainly two for two on its programming this year.
– – – – – – – – – –
By Karl O’Doherty
16th June 2015
Brunel Museum Thames Tunnel Shaft, Rotherhithe SE16 4LF.