Like sands in the hourglass, Isabella’s world turns in the LSU Opera’s production of Gioachino Rossini’s soapy comic opera, “L’Italiania in Algeri.”
The show opens on Thursday, in LSU’s Claude L. Shaver Theatre, where the stage has been transformed into a Turkish seaside palace with pirates, concubines and eunuchs.
“The culture clash is intriguing in this story,” says LSU Opera Director Dugg McDonough. “But the approach we’re taking with the costumes is that we’re not setting the story in any particular setting or in any particular time. We’re trying to approach it with satire and wit without making fun of particular cultures.”
All in keeping with Rossini’s idea to have fun with this story, a purposeful mix of chaos written to make audiences laugh.
The story, and the fun, revolves around Isabella, who runs into the tyrant Mustafa while searching for her lost lover, Lindoro.
Little does she know, Mustafa has enslaved Lindoro. He plans to pawn his wife off on Lindoro while setting his sights on Isabella, who wants nothing to do with him.
Rossini was only 21 when he composed “L’Italiania in Algeri” in less than a month. It premiered in Venice in 1813.
“When people think of prolific young composers, they automatically think of Mozart,” McDonough says. “But Rossini was among them. He wrote at a feverish speed until he was about 35 or 36.”
His career left the opera world with such classic comedies as “Il Barbiere di Siviglia,” or “The Barber of Seville” and “La Cenerentola,” or “Cinderella.”
“In terms of Rossini’s most popular operas, ‘L’Italiana in Algeri’ (The Italian Girl in Algiers) ranks in his top three,” McDonough says. “And though Rossini stopped writing, his operas are never out of reach.”
Isabella is the focus of the story as her ship wrecks in Algiers, where, unknown to her, her lost lover, Lindoro, is being held prisoner.
“She’s where she’s supposed to be but doesn’t know it,” says Zoie Reams, who plays Isabella. “She meets the sultan, who’s holding Lindoro prisoner, and he tells Isabella that he wants her for himself. There’s a lot of comedy with Isabella. She’s headstrong and turns the situation around, going through the motions with style and grace.”
The opera continues in a tangled web of deeds and misdeeds.
“What’s amazing is to hear the precision of the comedy laid out in Rossini’s music,” Reams says. “In Rossini, first you have to learn the notes; the words and wordplay come together.”
The opera will be performed in Italian with English subtitles projected on a screen at the top of the curtain.