Major Operas | L’italiana in Algeri by Gioachino Rossini | Early Romantic

The Italian Girl in Algiers

Despite its North African setting, Rossini’s L’italiana in Algeri was a resolutely Italian opera. Unlike Aida (1871), in which Verdi took care to evoke the mysterious atmosphere of ancient Egypt, Rossini made no particular attempt to reflect the exotic nature of Algiers.

However, given the good-natured harum-scarum fun of this two-act comic opera and the inventiveness of Rossini’s music, none of this mattered a great deal to the audience at the opera’s premiere at the Teatro San Benedetto in Venice on 22 May 1813. What mattered was Rossini’s mastery of comedy in this first of what were to become his three masterpieces of opera buffa.

Composed: 1813
Premiered: 1813, Venice
Libretto by Angelo Anelli

Act I

Elvira, wife of Mustafa, Bey (governor) of Algiers, is lamenting her husband’s waning affection to her confidante, Zulma. Mustafa reveals to Captain Haly that he is tired of Elvira and wishes her to marry Lindoro, his Italian slave. He asks Haly to find him an Italian woman for his harem. Lindoro does not wish to marry Elvira; he still loves his lost Italian sweetheart Isabella.

Haly’s pirates return with their captives – Isabella, who is searching for Lindoro, and Taddeo, her admirer. The pirates try to separate them, but they claim that Taddeo is her uncle and they must stay together. Haly rejoices in having found an Italian woman for Mustafa’s harem. Isabella is annoyed by Taddeo’s jealousy, but they stick together.

Lindoro and Elvira eventually agree to marry, although neither is keen. Lindoro will be allowed to leave for Italy, but Elvira still loves Mustafa and has no desire to go. Mustafa meets Isabella and falls in love with her. She realizes that she can outwit him and plays along. Elvira, Lindoro and Zulma come to bid farewell to Mustafa; Lindoro and Isabella recognize each other. Isabella persuades Mustafa not to send his wife away, and insists on keeping Lindoro as her slave.

Act II

Elvira still hopes to regain Mustafa’s love. Isabella scolds Lindoro for agreeing to marry Elvira; he assures her of his fidelity and they decide to escape. Mustafa, meanwhile, employs Taddeo as his Kaimakan, to help gain Isabella’s affection. Isabella advises Elvira on how to handle Mustafa. She then leaves and Isabella keeps Mustafa waiting outside. She eventually invites him in, along with Taddeo, whom Mustafa has instructed to leave when the Bey sneezes. Taddeo refuses to leave and Mustafa is further frustrated when Isabella invites Elvira to join them for coffee.

As Lindoro and Taddeo plan their escape, Mustafa enters. Lindoro reassures him that Isabella is in love with him, to the extent that she wants him to join the exclusive Italian order of Pappataci. Mustafa is pleased at this honour; Lindoro and Taddeo explain that he must only eat, drink and sleep, oblivious to the world around him. Isabella prepares a ceremony of initiation. Mustafa is pronounced a Pappataci and is presented with food, while Isabella...

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