Instead of being shipwrecked, captured by pirates and sold into slavery, the Italian travelers in David Hermann’s staging of Rossini’s L’Italiana in Algeri were flying comfortably in an Airbus when it crash-landed in the jungle in some remote part of the world.
The wrecked plane was apparently found by some sort of indigenous tribe, who re-purposed the cockpit as a home for their ruler, Mustafa, and used one of the jet engines as a prison for Lindoro, one of the Italian passengers. We don’t know, until shortly before the end, what has become of the other passengers.
The chorus members, in this production, all wear wooden masks for most of the evening (mounted far enough from their faces so they can still sing), and they seem to be members of the jungle tribe. They are ordered around by Haly, Mustafa’s faithful servant, who seems to have some sort of voodoo-like power over them. But near the end they are unmasked, one by one, and turn out to be the Italian passengers and crew of the Airbus.
In this exotic jungle setting, the same story unfolds as it always has, ever since Rossini composed L’Italiana in Algeri (The Italian Girl in Algiers) in 1813. Mustafa is tired of his wife, Elvira, and wants to get rid of her so he can marry Isabella instead. Isabella, the title figure of the opera, has come to rescue her lover Lindoro, but Mustafa wants Lindoro to marry Elvira and take her back to Italy.
The twists and turns of the plot get less and less plausible as the opera goes on, but Rossini’s music carries us along and smooths out all the rough edges.
There’s a happy ending for the Italians, who escape in their wreck of an Airbus, and even for Mustafa and Elvira, who are left behind in their jungle home with their marriage once again intact — Elvira having learned from Isabella (who is not married, as far as I can recall) how Italian women keep their husbands in line.
I’ve seen several other stagings of L’Italiana in Algeri, all quite different from each other but all equally funny. In an open-air production by the Kammeroper Frankfurt, stage director Rainer Pudenz had Isabella wrap up timid Elvira as though she were in a cocoon. When she emerged half an hour later she was totally transformed and threatened her husband with a whip, which apparently was what he had secretly been longing for the whole time.
OK, there wasn’t any whip in the Nancy production, but lots of other funny details like the airline serving wagon that had apparently survived the crash intact and was brought out in the second act to serve drinks to Mustafa and Isabella during one of the scenes.
This was the third opera I have seen in Nancy. The other two were also directed by David Hermann: Armide by Jean-Baptiste Lully in 2015 and Ariadne auf Naxos by Richard Strauss in 2017. These were all performed in their original languages (French, German or Italian) with French surtitles.
Since I was again in Nancy at the end of June, we were all asked to leave the opera house by a side door, and when we emerged onto Place Stanislaus there was again a fantastic light and sound show in progress, with constantly changing lighting effects projected onto the classical façades on three sides of the square. The building in my photo is the city hall, but the opera house, the art museum and two hotels were also projected upon in this long and ingenious spectacle.
Location, aerial view and photo of the Nancy opera house on monumentum.fr.
Watch the trailer of Rossini’s L’Italienne à Alger in Nancy.
My photos and text in this post are from 2018.