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LOL at the THT: Company to stage Rossini comic opera

THEATER PREVIEW
Think you don’t like opera? The Opera Company of Middlebury’s production of Rossini’s “The Italian Girl in Algiers” (L’Italiana in Algeri), opening Friday, May 30, at Town Hall Theater, will change your mind. Rossini’s first smash hit has been strategically relocated from North Africa to the American Midwest. From overture to finale, it is designed to recapture an artistic moment two centuries ago when comic opera was popular entertainment, not a high culture sacrament.
Ed Mustafa, the King of Used Cars in Algiers, Kansas, is a business bully and a superstud. The way he mistreats his women and his workers, who does he think he is, the King of Algeria? Not content with owning half the town, casting aside a fine wife and multiple mistresses, he always wants more. It is 1957, the year of brunette bombshells Sophia Loren, Gina Lollobrigida and Anna Magnani. What Mustafa (sung by basso Daniel Klein) wants more than anything is an Italian girl, and orders his underlings to find him one.
Instantly Isabella (Cherry Duke) rolls up in a shiny red sports car. She’s everything he imagined and way more than he bargained for, with hilarious results. “I’m on a mission,” says artistic director Doug Anderson. “Comic opera should be laugh-out-loud funny. We decided to pull out all the stops. I want the audience to laugh as loud at this as at a Noel Coward farce or ‘The Importance of Being Earnest.’”
Finding the right cast was crucial. Anderson recalls how mezzo-soprano Cherry Duke auditioned with Isabella’s opening aria, “Crude Sorte” (Cruel Fate). “She came in and sang it and made us laugh — she showed us what was funny about it. Not all singers have that ability.” Tenor Thomas Glenn, chosen for the role of Lindoro, was also a lucky find, an exception to the earnestness of many operatic tenors. “Thomas has this sneaky creative side to him. He’s not afraid to make himself look silly — sometimes tenors can’t do that. He had us in stitches.” Other principal singers include soprano Sarah Cullins (Elvira), Stephanie Scarcella (Zulma), Haly (Andy Pappas), and baritone Colin Levin (Taddeo).
The music, led by Maestro Emmanuel Plasson, starts with an overture you’ll probably recognize, a popular concert piece. Rossini’s music is everywhere in movie scores; the 19th century composer boasts over 500 entries in the Internet Movie Database, and only a third of them are the ubiquitous “Lone Ranger” theme from the William Tell overture. The stars are backed by a powerful chorus of professional singers, strong local talents, and two recent Middlebury College graduates from OCM’s first Young Artist program.
Because even the strongest singers can fall ill at the last moment, and the show must go on, OCM has engaged and rehearsed a full cast of understudies (called “covers”). Covers are always ready to jump into costume and full voice when needed. Colin Levin, understudied in this production by Michael Miller, has served as cover in many other operas in his career. Saying that covering is an extremely demanding job, he applauds OCM’s innovative decision to give the understudies a moment in the sun, with their own performance on June 6. Don’t be fooled by the half-price tickets, the show will be full-fledge professional opera!
About the show
“The Italian Girl in Algiers” at Middlebury’s Town Hall Theater on May 30, June 5 and June 7 at 8 p.m., and June 1 at 2 p.m.  Tickets are $55-65.  A special understudy performance on Friday, June 6.  Tickets are $25. 
Tickets at www.townhalltheater.org, 802-382-9222, at the THT Box Office (Mon-Sat, noon-5 pm) and at the door, if available.
 
Music by Gioachino Rossini
Libretto by Angelo Anelli
 
Artistic Director         Douglas Anderson
Music Director         Emmanuel Plasson
Production/Stage Manager     Mary Longey
Costume Designer        Debra Anderson
Lighting Designer                  Neil Curtis
Set Designer             Douglas Anderson
Technical Director                  Bill Friml
 
CAST
Isabella                               Cherry Duke
Elvira                                Sarah Cullins
Mustafà                              Daniel Klein
Lindoro                          Thomas Glenn
Taddeo                               Colin Levin
Zulma                   Stephanie Scarcella
Haly                                    Andy Papas
 
ENSEMBLE
Thorsteinn H. Árbjörnsson
James Blanchard
Ryne Cherry
Leroy Y. Davis
Michael Miller
Jon Thomas Olson
Matthew Stansfeld
Cameron Steinmetz
Neil Wacek
 
YOUNG ARTISTS/ENSEMBLE
Quinn Bernegger
Nathaniel Rothrock

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