L’italiana in Algeri, Rossini Opera Festival Pesaro, Italy

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Was it the bare-breasted dancing-girls, the cavorting zebra, or the lone fleeing communist during Isabella’s patriotic aria to Italy that annoyed them? Perhaps it was simply Dario Fo himself, appearing to take his bow. There was something Pavlovian about the chorus of boos at the end of Pesaro’s L’Italiana in Algeri revival. It is hard to imagine that anything in this sweetly ingenuous 1994 production could really cause offence. Parts of the audience seem to boo Fo as a matter of principle.

Fo’s staging has weathered the passing of time well enough. The costumes are timeless oriental fantasy, the action a limber succession of non-stop tom-foolery, the subversive asides are fleeting and subtle, and the whole has been rehearsed to a point of pleasing tautness. This is Fo at his most diverting, bursting with innocent fun, happy to illustrate Rossini’s absurd comedy without reading too much into it.

The €500,000 that has been spent on inserting two removable 1,200-seat opera spaces into the cavernous BPA Palas stadium has produced top-drawer lighting, acoustics and stage machinery. The problem remains the seating, which was apparently conceived for anorexic midgets.

This vintage L’italiana offers a refreshing dose of silliness to round off a festival otherwise full of worthy rarities. Donato Renzetti conducts in an orderly fashion; the Orchestra del Teatro Comunale di Bologna plays with tidy elegance; and everything works exactly as it should. The young, even cast fares well. Maxim Mironov makes a dazzling Lindoro, with airy lightness and fleet agility. Marco Vinco is assured and funny as the Bey Mustafa, Bruno de Simone makes a suitably ridiculous Taddeo, Marianna Pizzolato’s Isabella is confident and mostly accurate. Smaller roles are luxuriously cast. In all, it’s an evening of harmless fun, high-class summer Rossini for Fo fans and foes alike. ★★★☆☆

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