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The Italian Girl in Algiers

The Los Angeles Music Center Opera presents Giaocchino Rossini's two-act comic opera, text by Angelo Anelli. Conductor, Richard Bonynge; director, Alain Marcel; sets, Dominique Pichou; costumes, David Belugou; lighting, Alan Burrett. Opened, reviewed Jan. 17, 1996; runs through Feb. 3. Running time:2 hours, 40 min. TX:Cast: Jennifer Larmore (Isabella), Kurt Streit (Lindoro), Helmut Berger-Tuna (Mustafa), Michael Gallup (Taddeo); Constance Hauman, Tihana Herceg and Richard Bernstein. A delicious operatic comedy by a master of the genre; a major American singing star in her local debut; a conductor noted for expertise in the bel canto repertory: Nothing should have gone wrong in the Music Center Opera's production of Rossini's "L'Italiana in Algeri" (clumsily translated as "The Italian Girl in Algiers"). Unfortunately, quite a lot did. Onto Rossini's simple tale -- hostages held by exotic, amorous potentate, freed through outside intervention -- Marcel and set designer Dominique Pichou have piled a phenomenal array of gadgetry, little of it in any way relevant to the work at hand. There are drag numbers, striptease numbers, an opium-orgy number.

The Los Angeles Music Center Opera presents Giaocchino Rossini’s two-act comic opera, text by Angelo Anelli. Conductor, Richard Bonynge; director, Alain Marcel; sets, Dominique Pichou; costumes, David Belugou; lighting, Alan Burrett. Opened, reviewed Jan. 17, 1996; runs through Feb. 3. Running time:2 hours, 40 min. TX:Cast: Jennifer Larmore (Isabella), Kurt Streit (Lindoro), Helmut Berger-Tuna (Mustafa), Michael Gallup (Taddeo); Constance Hauman, Tihana Herceg and Richard Bernstein. A delicious operatic comedy by a master of the genre; a major American singing star in her local debut; a conductor noted for expertise in the bel canto repertory: Nothing should have gone wrong in the Music Center Opera’s production of Rossini’s “L’Italiana in Algeri” (clumsily translated as “The Italian Girl in Algiers”). Unfortunately, quite a lot did. Onto Rossini’s simple tale — hostages held by exotic, amorous potentate, freed through outside intervention — Marcel and set designer Dominique Pichou have piled a phenomenal array of gadgetry, little of it in any way relevant to the work at hand. There are drag numbers, striptease numbers, an opium-orgy number.

At one point choristers sing while perched on or in large pots of pasta. At another, male choristers, gotten up as harem eunuchs, pound out the rhythms of their music on the bodies of captive maidens. The result is clutter pure and not-so-simple; the misguided stagecraft, along with conductor Richard Bonynge’s tendency toward slogging tempos, cast mighty roadblocks athwart an opera that is , of itself, delightful, frothy nonsense.

After a promising start in European opera houses, Georgia-born mezzo-soprano Jennifer Larmore has of late been extending her American conquests. Mired in this unfriendly production, with David Belugou’s costume designs verging on the lurid, Larmore still managed a striking personal triumph.

Truth to tell, her honey-rich voice took some warming-up time on opening night; not until her second-act “Per lui che adoro” did she truly fulfill the ecstatic notices she has elsewhere garnered.

From then on, seconded by a creditable supporting cast that included the fine young American tenor Kurt Streit (who was, however, obliged to sing his big aria while fondling a soup ladle), Larmore served ample notice of her now-legendary prowess. However drastically this “Italiana” may have offended the eye — and, at times, the credulity — the benevolence to the ear was seldom in question.

The Italian Girl in Algiers

(Dorothy Chandler Pavilion; 3,201 seats; $ 120 top)

Production: Think back to the company's last production, Mozart's "Abduction From the Seraglio" in November: elegantly comedic, marvelous deployed on an almost bare stage with simple drops beautifully lit. Rossini's early comedy may have nearly the same plot as the Mozart, but there were no similarities in imagination. Instead, director Alain Marcel seemed determined to cram his vast stage with one each of every trick in the book.

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