Bregenz, Austria, is best known for its open-air opera performances at the lakefront stage on Lake Constance, but the town also has a conventional theater building called the Theater am Kornmarkt, which is used each year from September through June as the main venue of the Vorarlberger Landestheater, the state theater of the Austrian federal state of Vorarlberg. In the summer months it is used by the Bregenz Festival for concerts, recitals and smaller opera productions.
The opera I saw at the Theater am Kornmarkt in Bregenz was the premiere of Rossini’s The Italian Girl in Algiers (L’Italiana in Algeri), with young singers of the Bregenz Festival Opera Studio.
The stage director was listed as Brigitte Fassbaender, which surprised me because I had just seen a new staging of hers in Frankfurt a few weeks before (Benjamin Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Bockenheimer Depot), and I knew she had left for Erl, Austria, immediately after that, to prepare a new production of Wagner’s huge opera Die Walküre. So how could she also have been in Bregenz at the same time? This was a ‘Thing of the Impossibility’ (as the German expression goes), since even the indefatigable Brigitte Fassbaender at age 83 could not have been in three different cities preparing three different opera productions (by three very different composers) all at the same time.
This minor mystery was cleared up the next morning by the local newspaper, the Vorarlberger Nachrichten, which reminded its readers that this production had been prepared and rehearsed the year before, but then “couldn’t be performed because of a Covid illness.”
L’Italiana in Algeri was a big success for Rossini when it was first performed in Venice in 1813. I’ve seen it in several different productions, for instance in Essen, Germany, where it was set in an ultra-modern airport in some unspecified country in the Middle East; and in Nancy, France, where stage director David Hermann set it in the remains of an Airbus which had crash-landed in the jungle in some remote part of the world. Brigitte Fassbaender’s version in Bregenz took place on a luxurious yacht belonging to a 21st century multi-millionaire.
The first act of L’Italiana in Algeri is a wacky comedy that I have so far enjoyed every time I’ve seen it, but I have started getting impatient with the second act, which at some point crosses the invisible line between a wacky comedy and a stupid comedy. In the second act, Mustafa tricks Taddeo by having him inducted into the imaginary Order of Kaimakan — but then Mustafa himself falls for the same scam when Isabella (the Italiana of the title) has him inducted into the equally imaginary Order of the Pappataci. This is all so ridiculous that it ceases to be funny (or my sense of humor starts to fail me), but audiences in the 19th century seem to have found these imaginary Orders hilarious, because they were seen as spoofs of the Freemasons, who were prominent and powerful at that time.
My photos and text in this post are from 2022.