OPERA / Welcome to the menagerie: Della Couling reports from Pesaro on Dario Fo's second encounter with the wit of Rossini

Dario Fo says, 'We should never forget that Rossini was a Voltairean. He had no time for sentimentality and high-flown phrases.' It has certainly not been forgotten in Fo's triumphant production of L'Italiana in Algeri at this year's Rossini Festival in Pesaro - the second onslaught on the composer by someone else who can never be accused of indulging in sentimentality (Fo directed a very successful Barber of Seville here in 1987).

Rossini's caustic wit - particularly evident in the orchestra, where sentiments nobly expressed on stage are mercilessly undercut - is matched by Fo's staging (he also designed sets and costumes). In this off-the- peg tale of wicked oriental despots outwitted by quick-thinking Italians, when the captive tenor hero, Lindoro (Markus Schafer), bewails his fate and his lost love Isabella, his sorrows are mocked both by the music and by an on- stage camel, two monkeys, a giraffe and an ostrich.

In his research, Fo discovered that for the 1813 Venice premiere, the 21-year-old Rossini had specified not only seven principal singers but also comic dancers, clowns, acrobats, jugglers: 50 in all. Where have they all gone? Killed, says Fo, by the 19th-century taste for melodrama.

Here they are all fully restored, starting with the overture, when we see a stormy sea (rows of painted waves moved from side to side by acrobatic extras), leaping fish, swooping seagulls (on long wands), rain (blue streamers), plus pirates, mariners and captive passengers. The style is Fo, the idiom pure commedia dell'arte - brilliantly illustrating not only Fo's long roots in that tradition but also Rossini's.

Fo's bawdy humour is much in evidence: when the Bey Mustafa (Donato Di Stefano) enters, he is wheeled on in what is clearly - despite oriental ornamentation - an erect phallus. And when Isabella (Jennifer Larmore) is changing, and spied on by the lustful Mustafa and his men, the palm trees hiding them suddenly all get a lot taller.

This is a very feminist opera: men are weak and ridiculous, women are strong. And, as always with Fo, and again in true commedia dell'arte tradition, nothing is sacred. When Isabella, confident of outwitting the Bey, sings a long patriotic aria, we see below her a very questionable bunch of Italians, all concentrating their patriotic fervour first on a football team, then on cheering a group of racing cyclists who end up in a tangled crash.

Jennifer Larmore as Isabella proves yet again that she is now one of the world's leading Rossini mezzos. The bass Donato Di Stefano as Mustafa, another excellent Rossini exponent, also shows great comic skills (and courage: in a boastful aria, his male swagger is made ridiculous in that he is being manhandled round the stage in a Leonardo- esque flying machine as flimsy as his fantasies). The weak link in an otherwise extremely strong cast was the young tenor, Markus Schafer: a late replacement, he was vocally not up to the demands of the role. The conductor David Robertson got a sharp, sparkling performance out of the orchestra of the Teatro Comunale di Bologna.

Like Fo's first foray into Rossini, this is a co-production with the Nederlandse Opera in Amsterdam, where it can be seen this coming season.

(Photograph omitted)

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Frost will star in the Doctor Who 2014 Christmas special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
TV
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Actor and director Zach Braff

TV
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Meera Syal was a member of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne modelling

film
Arts and Entertainment
Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel are bringing Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street to the London Coliseum

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape

Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'

music
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

Review: Cilla, ITV TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars with Cillian Murphy in Peaky Blinders II

TV
Arts and Entertainment

art
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West is on his 'Yeezus' tour at the moment

Music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam