Classical Music Home

Welcome to Naxos Records

Keyword Search
 Classical Music Home > Naxos Album Reviews

Album Reviews

See latest reviews of other albums...

V. Vasan, March 2011

Festival productions can be hit or miss, depending on how much time the musicians have rehearsed together, and on the chemistry between them. This CD is an absolute hit, recorded at the 20th Rossini in Wildbad Festival. The singers beautifully embody their characters, while the orchestra (Virtuosi Brunensis with Alberto Zedda) is spirited and the Transylvania State Philharmonic Choir richly supportive. The energetic overture draws the listener into the opera’s world, with the requisite full orchestra crescendo one expects of Rossini; the only difficulty is that the lower voices of the orchestra are not loud enough (the orchestra may be a bit sparse). This musically spot-on introduction sets the tone for the rest of the album. All the singers have a strong sense of musicality and very clear diction (not surprising, given that many of them are singing in their native Italian): this is especially important in recitatives and in rapid-fire, chaotic, often comedic ensemble numbers that are a hallmark of Rossini. The opera is interpreted so well that the listener can easily follow along even without a libretto. Especially noteworthy are the tenor Lawrence Brownlee, who plays Lindoro, and Lorenzo Regazzo who plays the imperious Mustapha. Brownlee’s tenor is very expressive with a fast vibrato, dramatic and heartfelt, even if on occasion all the notes in his melismas are not perfectly defined. Regazzo’s charismatic performance recalls an earlier opera star, Tom Krause, and his character’s mission and pompousness are comically conveyed. This is not to say that the other singers are any less worthy on this album, for Bruno de Simone’s bass is as clear and agile as a tenor’s, Marianna Pizzolato’s contralto is passionate while always maintaining strong vocal control, and Giulio Mastrototaro’s solo is quite enjoyable. Perhaps the only major criticism one could make of this album is that Elvira’s timbre does not match the others, as it is very bright (but this is in no way a criticism of the quality of her singing). Fans of The Marriage of Figaro will most certainly like this album, as the opera deals with common themes of infidelity, separated lovers, and trickery. In sum, each element here works, from the harpsichord accompaniment to the singers to the score to the orchestra. Highly recommended and highly entertaining.

Judith Malafronte
Opera News, January 2011

Veteran Rossini conductor and scholar Alberto Zedda brings formidable stylistic command coupled with a deft, affectionate touch to this live recording of L’Italiana in Algeri, rendering it among the best available. Without a glittery cast, Zedda’s focus on naturalness, individual vocal characterizations and excellent ensemble singing brings a welcome freshness and coziness to Rossini’s bubbly, invigorating comedy. 

Zedda’s alert baton grants expressive rubato to wind and brass solos, always allowing scope for Rossini’s specific musical characterizations and particular rhythmic energy. Supple tempos and spicy dynamics, rather than merely breakneck tempos, bring punch and vigor to every page of the score, and the phony rituals—the silly Pappataci installation, as well as the Kaimakan ceremony—are particularly lively.

The forces at the Rossini in Wildbad Festival—the Transylvania State Philharmonic Choir and the Virtuosi Brunensis—sound better than ever, while American tenor Lawrence Brownlee shows once again that he can do everything Juan Diego Flórez does, with a beautiful sound and more convincing musical commitment. As the hapless Lindoro, Italian slave of the Bey Mustafà, Brownlee’s sweet, ardent singing and open, resonant upper range are remarkable. With Lorenzo Regazzo as the pompous Bey, the patter duet “Se inclinassi a prender moglie” is hilariously effective, crisp without sounding brittle. Regazzo wisely plays the Bey as a careless, brusque husband rather than an old buffoon, and he shows nice lyricism and flexibility, especially in the breezy aria “Già d’insolito ardore nel petto.”

In the title role, Marianna Pizzolato reveals a lovely, open contralto, with inventive ornamentation and relaxed phrasing, especially in the staged seduction aria, “Per lui che adoro.” Whether the shipwrecked Isabella is berating her hanger-on, Taddeo, suppressing a smile while captivating the adoring Bey, or instilling confidence in the Bey’s put-upon wife, Pizzolato’s singing is full of linguistic character and liveliness.

Bruno De Simone’s Taddeo is both fussy and funny, with his unique voice bringing point to ensembles (especially “Pappataci Mustafà”), while Ruth Gonzalez’s full, bright soprano is an asset as Elvira.

Robert J Farr
MusicWeb International, November 2010

Recordings of Rossini’s L’Italiana in Algeri, the composer’s first full-length comic opera, are arriving thick and fast. As I write in the autumn of 2010 the work has already appeared in two re-issues featuring renowned divas as L’Italiana. Sony, in their Sony Opera House series, has given a new lease of life to the 1979 recording featuring Lucia Valentini-Terrani in the eponymous role (see review) whilst from Erato’s Opera Collection has come a revival of the admired 1980 recording with a starry cast including the formidable Marilyn Horne centre-stage. I awarded this Bargain of the Month whilst also warning that this live performance from Naxos was on the way. It was recorded at Bad Wildbad in 2008 in a performance to celebrate the Bad Wildbad Festival’s twentieth anniversary. Notably it features one of the earliest recordings of new tenor find, Lawrence Brownlee, now finding illustrious fame in Rossini at New York’s Metropolitan Opera, alongside the admired Italian diva Marianna Pizzolato in the title role. Renowned Rossini scholar and conductor Alberto Zedda, nearing his eightieth year, is on the rostrum.

This proliferation of recordings is wholly fitting as L’Italiana has had a place in the record catalogue since the earliest days of LP. It now takes its rightful place on the world’s opera stages and in the Rossini canon. The premiere in May 1813 followed on from the success, earlier in the same year, of the composer’s opera seria Tancredi at Venice’s premier theatre, the La Fenice. Immediately after that event the composer travelled to Ferrara where he presented a revised version of the work with a tragic ending more appropriate to the Voltaire original. On his return to Venice, and with his reputation swept along in an upward spiral, Rossini was in demand to write a comic opera, at very short notice, for the Teatro San Benedetto. Faced with a timetable of less than a month he decided to recycle, with some revisions, the libretto of an existing opera. He also outsourced the recitatives and Haly’s short aria in act two La femmine d’Italia (CD 2 tr.14). The recitatives and the aria are those included in the Critical Edition by Azio Corghi for the Rossini Foundation, Pesaro, which is used here.

The plot of L’Italiana revolves around the feisty eponymous heroine Isabella. She has been sailing in the Mediterranean, accompanied by an elderly admirer Taddeo, in search of her lover Lindoro. After her ship is wrecked, Mustafa, the Bey of Algiers, believes her the ideal replacement for his neglected wife who he intends to marry off to a captured slave. This slave happens to be Lindoro. After complicated situations involving Taddeo being awarded the honour of Kaimakan and Mustafa becoming a Pappataci, a spoof award invented by Isabella to keep him obeying her strict instructions, all ends well in a rousing finale with the Italians escaping from the clutches of the Bey.

In my review of the Sony recording I noted that despite a cast of native Italians, who invest the recitatives with commendable nuance, somewhere along the way Rossini’s vibrant opera with all its humour gets lost. I attributed this to Lucia Valentini-Terrani. She is somewhat heavier in tone than in her previous recording and fails to bring out the lightness and vivacity of the role. I felt this was exactly what Marilyn Horne’s interpretation on Erato, the highlights of which were reviewed by a colleague did. The latter now comes complete and at bargain price. This Naxos recording may not have the starry names of the other versions referred to here. What it does have is the non-pareil experience of Alberto Zedda. Right from the outset his rhythmic vitality belies his age, whilst his experience of the composer’s music characterises this performance. Add his pacing throughout, particularly in the recitatives, and the performance as a whole is off to a flying start. At the time of the recording not many of the soloists were household names in the Rossini firmament. That has changed somewhat in the intervening years. This is particularly so with respect to Lawrence Brownlee who is now making big waves in what had been considered the fiefdom of Juan Diego Florez. Brownlee has more edge to his tone than his renowned Peruvian coeval. He gets both his major arias ((CD 1 Tr.5 and CD 2 Tr.4) whilst contributing with tonal beauty to ensembles and duets where his high-flying tenor is distinctive. Whilst there is the odd squeeze to the tone he, as we now know, is a major artist in this repertoire and is in demand at the best operatic addresses. Not quite achieving that level is Marianna Pizzolato as the eponymous lady, Isabella. If Marilyn Horne comes over as though she could eat the Bey for breakfast, and without indigestion, as she manoeuvres him into the Pappataci shenanigans (CD 2 Tr.17), Pizzolato, shown as contralto but more a soft-grained mezzo to my ears, comes over as much more feminine in her wiles. In the cavatina Crude sorte! her even tone and well shaped phrases are welcome, whilst her native Italian is even more so in the recitatives. Venetian Giulio Mastrototaro is quite magnificent as the Bey infatuated with Isabella. His full-ranged resonant voice allied to vocal flexibility and ability to play with the words portends a great future in this repertoire. He is heard to benefit throughout. Bruno De Simone, an old hand in this repertoire, characterises Isabella’s elderly admirer Taddeo well whether fearing his own fate, accepting the Bey’s honours or playing as Isabella’s uncle. Giulio Mastrototaro, with a soft-grained bass, sings Haly’s aria with appropriate nuance (CD 2 Tr.14).

If this live performance does not displace the Warner recording, and particularly its duo of Marilyn Horne and Sam Ramey in my affections, it is without doubt one of the best of the many Rossini performances Naxos have made at Bad Wildbad. Its quality, particularly it’s conducting, can stand alongside any on record. For those irritated by the intrusion of applause in live performances, it is more frequent and enthusiastic than in those other recordings, reflecting the quality. Those who enjoy the extra vibrancy of live recordings, and are more tolerant of the intrusions, can glory in its strengths.

Rossinian enthusiasts will savour this performance and at the price can afford to add it to their other versions. The absence of libretto is a drawback although one is available, without translation, at For those relatively new to the work, or the composer’s compositions other than Il Barbiere, in many ways the complexities of the story can better be understood from seeing a performance of which there are several versions on DVD. I review two such on this site, although in rather idiosyncratic productions. That from the Pesaro Festival of 2006 also involves Marianna Pizzolato as Isabella whilst the TDK from Paris in 1998, and also in 16:9 format, has Jennifer Larmore who gives a bravura performance decorating the vocal line with ease and without excess. The idiosyncrasies of the production do not detract from her very fine interpretation that matches that on her excellent audio recording on Teldec/Warner.

The booklet to this issue provides an excellent track-related synopsis and welcome artist profiles.

Gavin Dixon
MusicWeb International, October 2010

Nimbleness and transparency of tone are essential in Rossini. It is therefore gratifying that Alberto Zedda, the 82 year old conductor on this recording, still has all the energy and insight required to pull off an impressive reading. L’Italiana in Algeri, a work written when its composer was 21, requires a paradoxical mix of innocence and experience. It requires direct, unmediated expression, but it also needs a deep understanding of the operatic conventions of the day.

The combination is achieved here through the collaboration of the senior conductor and a largely youthful cast. The standard of singing is high, yet nobody really excels: this is very much an ensemble performance. It is also a concert performance, which has the advantage of appropriately placed microphones for the singers. The recording was made for German radio...Ruth Gonzalez...soon finds her pace and delivers a very attractive performance. Lorenzo Regazzo combines a richness of tone with a suppleness of phrasing as Mustafà...Lively woodwind and brass solos are the highlight of the orchestra’s performance. Again, the concert performance serves the recording balance well, and the interplay of wind and vocal soloists is presented with clarity and excellent balance...Curiously, Zedda does not wade into the Rossini crescendos, he seems more intent on maintaining an even dramatic texture, to take the long view...there is still plenty of drama. Despite the concert hall venue, the singers interact well, and the many ensembles retain their fragile dramatic credibility...there is a palpable sense of authenticity in every bar of this music. Respect for the score (in a new critical edition from Azio Corghi) and for its composer are everywhere apparent. That suggests the real star of this performance is its venerable conductor. Tradition matters in Rossini, and Alberto Zedda comes across as a living embodiment of the continuing Italian tradition of opera buffa.

James A. Altena
Fanfare, September 2010

Here is another Naxos recording of a production from the 2008 Rossini in Wildbad Festival, with the same chorus and orchestra as for the Otello staged a week later, also reviewed by me in this issue. Here we have a different conductor and cast of soloists, a comic rather than a tragic subject, and one of Rossini’s best-known and -loved masterpieces instead of a worthy but at present far less familiar work.

I found much to praise in the Otello performance, and I do here as well. First and foremost, there is the Lindoro of Lawrence Brownlee (whom I recently had the privilege of hearing in Armida at the Met). At the risk of hyperbole, I believe that this phenomenal artist is arguably the greatest light Rossini tenor in recorded history, or at least in a complete opera recording—certainly, the greatest since Dino Borgioli. He has everything—a voice of pellucid timbre, evenness of production and breath support in all registers, flawless coloratura technique, and aristocratic taste in interpretation, all allied to a deep understanding of the expressive possibilities of whatever part he assumes. While there are several other fine renditions of this role on disc, Brownlee surpasses them all, and he alone is worth the price of this set. Second, Lorenzo Regazzo is a superior Mustafa. His voice, both in timbre and distinctive style of enunciation, displays some similarity to that of Samuel Ramey, albeit at least one shade lighter in timbre. His breathing is steady and well supported, and there is far less aspiration in his coloratura technique than one encounters in most singers in this role. He also is careful to make the character credible; by not overplaying the buffoonish aspects through distortion of the vocal line, he thereby makes him a much more real threat (a lesson that many Beckmessers could learn). Third, Alberto Zedda conducts the score with a deft, light touch and great zest, favoring speedy tempi; I don’t recall having heard the Lindoro–Mustafa duet “Se inclinassi” or the riotous act I finale taken at such a brisk clip, and yet all the singers dispatch their parts without evident difficulty and with appropriate verve. The chorus and orchestra are well balanced and provide for Zedda playing and singing as fine as that in the succeeding Otello for Antonino Fogliani. The Haly and Elvira are both better than the norm, though each has a slight spread in the voice at the top; the Zulma (Elsa Giannoulidou) is excellent in her brief part...Isabella of Marianna Pizzolato...has a good vocal technique, and the requisite style...The considerable virtues of this performance (particularly Brownlee), in tandem with its mid-range price, mean that it can safely be recommended as a worthwhile acquisition.

Michael Mark
American Record Guide, September 2010

The best singer on the Naxos set is appealing artist in his own right who can unflinchingly handle Rossini’s demands...Regazzo and De Simone are entertaining ...Rossini scholar Alberto Zedda does a nice-enough job...Everyone else involved with this performance is OK.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, May 2010

A special jubilee production to mark the 20th anniversary of the annual ‘Rossini in Wildbad Festival’ held in 2008, and conducted by the legendary Alberto Zedda who was celebrating his 80th year. The Italian Girl in Algiers is the highly improbable story of the Italian girl, Isabella, shipwrecked on the coast of Algeria and taken prisoner by the Mustafa, who just happens to be looking for an Italian wife. Once there she begins to plot her escape, only to discover her long lost lover, Lindoro, is also a captive. The plot to fool Mustafa is, as in all good comedies, eventually achieved to everyone’s delight—apart from Mustafa, The part of Isobella and Lindoro is given to a soprano and tenor, while the Mustafa is a big and resonant bass. The performance appears to be in the composer’s final version staged in Milan in 1814, though none of the changes he made were earth-shattering. Isabella is sung by the Italian soprano, Marianna Pizzolato, a silvery voiced agile voice that is well suited to the teasing and scheming young lady. As with many of Rossini’s early operas—he was only twenty-one when it was completed—he looks for a high tenor, the American-born Lawrence Brownlee setting out his credentials early in the first act with the cavatina, Languir per una bella, and throughout he produces a nice open tone. A frequent name in Europe’s leading opera houses, Lorenzo Regazzo’s Mustafa is best heard in the fast moving exchanges where he is falling prey to Isabella. I am much taken by Bruno De Simone in the part of Taddeo, Isabella’s companion. He is in the line of Italian comic basses who can vocally extract every morsel of fun that comes his way. Zedda’s tempos are always responsive to the needs of the voices, but stokes up the big ensembles with admirable brio. Much credit for the transparent textures must also go to him, though the sound quality from German radio is uncommonly good for a ‘live’ recording. There is applause between major arias, but stage noise is at an absolute minimum.

Naxos Records, a member of the Naxos Music Group