If you’re worried about rogue nations that might be building nukes and destabilizing the neighborhood, don’t bother with diplomacy or military intervention. All you need to do is send in a fiery Italian woman, and in short order she’ll have any dictator, president, ayatollah or bey set straight.
It’s a feat managed in about 2 1 /2 hours by the heroine of Gioacchino Rossini’s comic opera “The Italian Girl in Algiers,” arriving Thursday at Symphony Hall in an Arizona Opera production. (In Italian, she’s not necessarily a “girl,” but that’s the common, prefeminist translation.)
Isabella washes up in North Africa, searching for her lover, Lindoro, who has been abducted and sold into slavery. Isabella finds herself in the palace of Mustafà, the local ruler, who happens to be using Lindoro as a servant. Mustafà is bored with his wife, the submissive and devoted Elvira, and wants to send her off to Italy with Lindoro and take the strongwilled Isabella as the new Mrs. Mustafà. Immediately, Isabella launches a scheme to escape with Lindoro, keep Elvira with her husband and expose Mustafà’s foolishness.
Premiered in 1813, “The Italian Girl” predates Rossini’s greatest success, “The Barber of Seville,” by a couple of years. “The Italian Girl” may lack the arias that abound in “Barber,” but the music is entertaining. Each number requires the singers to negotiate ornate vocal lines with great finesse.
Arizona Opera’s cast proved as nimble as could be desired on opening night in Tucson last week. Sandra Piques Eddy as Isabella and Lisanne Norman as Elvira were both firm and graceful of voice. François Loup avoided the buffoonery the role of Mustafà invites and invested his role with subtle vocalism. Initially, his low-volume recitatives — the sung conversation between the main numbers — made it seem like he was afraid of disturbing the Moroccans next door, but eventually it became clear that Loup was simply maintaining careful dynamic control over an exceptionally lyrical performance.
And speaking of things lyrical, Barry Banks was a superb Lindoro, combining an ease and flexibility of line with a powerful yet unforced projection not common among lyric tenors. (Most of these roles are double-cast, with different singers performing on alternate nights.)
Even the secondary roles were filled splendidly, particularly by Hugh Russell as Isabella’s tag-along suitor; he’s an engaging singer and actor who never let his stock character become dull.
Conductor Cal Stewart Kellogg kept the orchestra and chorus on their toes, and director Marc Verzatt maintained good interplay between the characters, although he lapsed into simplistic standand-deliver blocking for the ensemble numbers with chorus.