ORGANIZED AND COMPLETE MADNESS
Not so long ago, Rossini was considered a one-and-a-half hit wonder. THE BARBER OF SEVILLE was internationally recognized, but his other operas were infrequently performed, with the partial exception of the WILLIAM TELL overture.
Today we see Rossini very much as his own audiences did, the composer of wonderful serious operas as well as many great comedies. His career took off in 1813 with TANCREDI, a “heroic opera” centered on warfare between the Byzantine Empire and Arabic Muslims. Its premiere caused a sensation, with his first biographer calling it “a genuine thunderbolt out of a clear, blue sky for the Italian lyric theatre.”
No less triumphant was THE ITALIAN GIRL IN ALGIERS, which opened three months later. This time, Rossini explored the comic possibilities of the relationship between Europe and the Arabic world. The result was one of his finest and funniest comedies, set to music of enormous vitality and great charm —“organized and complete madness.”
The “Italian Girl” Isabella is shipwrecked on the Algerian coast, where the soldiers of chieftain Mustafa capture her. As soon as Mustafa sees her, he decides to discard his current wife in favor of the exotic foreigner. As it so happens, Isabella’s lover Lindoro was captured by Mustafa earlier and they are soon reunited. Through madcap schemes worthy of the Marx Brothers, Isabella manages to bamboozle Mustapha and his entire army, and so escapes back to Italy with Lindoro.