Atlanta Opera synchronized the conclusion of its search for a new general director — a position that Tomer Zvulun will take on as of June 1 — with the presentation of its final production for the season, Rossini’s Italiana in Algeri (seen Apr. 27). The opera, which tells of a clever Italian girl who is shipwrecked on the African coast while searching for her disappeared lover, Lindoro, offered a fitting parallel to the choppy waters navigated this season by Atlanta’s opera company.
The production of Italiana by the late Ed Hastings, first seen at Santa Fe Opera in 2002 and subsequently presented at several other theaters, was directed in Atlanta by Helena Binder. The production updates Angelo Anelli’s story by a century, presenting the heroine, Isabella, as an aviatrix reminiscent of Amelia Earhart, the pilot who disappeared over the Pacific Ocean in 1937. Isabella arrives in Algeria in a multi-colored prop plane, rather than by ship. The updating worked and was great fun. Costume designer Joanna Schmink cleverly dressed the cast in 1930s garb. For example, Isabella initially seduced the Bey Mustafà (Burak Bilgili) in a baby-blue Jean Harlow-esque Hollywood glam gown while Lindoro looked smart in a blue sports jacket and hat that seemed to have come straight out of TheMusic Man. These costumes stood alongside traditional Algerian clothing fashioned in vibrant jewel tones.
As music conductor Arthur Fagen brought Rossini’s famous overture to a close, a giant, popup storybook opened to page fourteen, revealing Mustafà’s underappreciated wife, Elvira (Ashley Emerson). Emerson is a pint-sized soprano with a plethora of charisma and a sizeable voice. She and her confidante Zulma (Maria McDaniel) were exceedingly funny, sunbathing in stylish shades at the start of Act II while singing about Isabella’s smarts.
Two singers emerged this evening as Rossini pros, in terms of precision and familiarity with the score. Bruno Praticò, an accomplished bass-baritone, performed the buffo style brilliantly, particularly in the “Pappatacci” trio. He bellowed and crooned, incorporating the slightest nasality. Turkish bass Burak Bilgili stole the show as a robust Mustafà. He possesses a hearty voice but can also summon fioratura or patter when necessary. Bilgili influenced the rest of the cast with his vocal and comedic proficiency.
AO cast several rising stars in L’Italiana as well, and they excelled under Binder’s dynamic stage direction. Sandra Piques Eddy sang Isabella with impressive agility, tossing off runs and arpeggios with ease. Her characterization of a confident Isabella was extremely satisfying, most notably during her aria “Per lui, che adoro” which she sang while lounging in a clawfoot tub. Michele Angelini sang Lindoro with less assurance. A light-lyric tenor with a nimble voice, Angelini was visibly pre-occupied with the vocal demands of his role. Frederick Jackson as Haly and Maria McDaniel as Zulma sang beautifully in their supporting roles, as did the jubilant Atlanta Opera men’s chorus.