Review: Sexy, sassy ‘Italian Girl’ sings!

The delightful creative partnership of director Doug Anderson and maestro Emmanuel Plasson has rolled out another triumph for The Opera Company of Middlebury in this season’s production of Rossini’s “The Italian Girl in Algiers.” Sparkly and fast paced with a treasure trove of great singers, it is a celebration of comic opera.
Its marvelously simple plot is offset by some dazzling music. After all, Rossini is the guy who said, “Give me a laundry list and I’ll set it to music.” This version of the opera has been relocated to a 1950s Kansas where Ed Mustafa, The King of Used Cars, decides, perhaps after seeing too many Sophia Loren movies, that what HE needs is an Italian girl. And we’re off!
The ’50s conceit fits like a glove for the piece and is a visual charm with a nostalgic feel from the sets and costumes to the ridiculous and openly sexist attitudes.
Daniel Klein, a bit too young and good looking for the traditional Mustafa, overcomes that handicap with his complete commitment to being an idiot and his astonishing bass-baritone sets the bar for an evening of musical excellence.
As his right-hand-man, Haly, Andy Papas uses his wonderful baritone to create a perfect partnership with Mr. Klein, inspired, no doubt, by “Dumb and Dumber.”
Thomas Glenn’s Lindoro on the other hand is a perfect foil for Mustafa. Glenn’s soaring beautiful tenor is a heartbreaker and as the Italian girl’s lost lover he brings a few moments of sincere pathos to the zaniness around him.
Sarah Cullins’ portrayal of Elvira, the cast off wife of Mustafa, is a jewel. She has an extraordinarily pleasing voice and is just so darn funny and cute in her sweater sets that you want to hug her. And as her maid Zulma, Stephanie Scarcella is spot on sassy and vocally confident.
Colin Levin as Taddeo gives us a beautifully sung, classic out-of-towner. Showing up in his fancy white suit he gets into all kinds of comic trouble with the locals which forces him to beautifully sing his way out of them.
In one of the best entrances an Italian girl could ask for, Cherry Duke as Isabella arrives in Algiers and takes over the stage. Miss Duke has a magnificent voice and she inhabits her role with humor and smarts. She deftly mastered all the vocal fireworks of the role as well as that derriere wiggle we all know from 1950s movies.
Bravo, Miss Duke!
Assisting these principals is a powerful ensemble of singers who provide a musical and narrative backbone for the night. Costumed either as local yokels, grease monkeys or invading bikers, the ensemble brings a lot of fun to the event. The roster of talent consists of Thorssteinn H. Árbjörnsson, James Blanchard, Ryne Cherry, Leroy Y. Davis, Michael Miller, Jon Thomas Olson, Matthew Stansfield, Cameron Steinmetz, Neil Wacek, Quinn Bernegger and Nathanial Rothrock.
All this talent leads to many wonderful moments on stage. One of the most memorable is the hilarious and astonishing ending of Act One, where it appears everyone in Algiers, Kansas, is losing their mind at the same moment. It is comic opera at its best and paves the way for inspired lunacy in the second act.
The evening is just plain FUN!
Maestro Plasson conducted the orchestra. As well as directing, Mr. Anderson designed the evocative and charming sets.
Debra Anderson’s costume design is colorful and imaginative and, yes, FUNNY.
Rossini’s “The Italian Girl in Algiers” opened this past Friday and runs through Saturday, June 7, at The Town Hall Theater in Middlebury.

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