Opera Fairbanks presented an excellent production of Rossini's "Italian Girl in Algiers" this weekend. The orchestra, conducted by Greg Buchalter, was spot on from the first notes of the overture to the end. The chorus was well-drilled and strong. Jonathon Loy's staging was utterly comic - the audience laughed a lot. And the singing was top drawer; the audience at Hering Auditorium also applauded a lot.
The Lindoro of Barry Banks was an instant hit. Short, chubby and bald, he did not look like anyone's idea of the romantic lead, but as soon as he opened his mouth and let fly his gorgeous tenor, every woman in the audience - or at least the one's sitting close to me - fell in love with him.
The other major male roles were also beautifully handled and well-sung. Rod Nelman as the loony Bey of Algiers and Earle Patriarco as Taddeo, the hapless unrequited lover of the title character were delightfully animated and rubber-faced. I was reminded of a Lucille Ball schtick, with better music.
The reason an Opera Buffa filled the Fairbanks auditorium, however, was Vivica Genaux as isabella, the "Italian Girl" who fears not adversity and takes action to get her way. Born in Fairbanks, Genaux has achieved an international reputation for singing some of the most difficult music ever written, a bit of which is in this opera. She has an unusual ability to sing a long succession of 16th or 32nd or maybe faster notes, with each note being hit clearly and with a tiny bit of space between them. I can't play a piano scale as precisely as she does a scale with her larynx.
At the end of the intermission the power went out. Someone had hit a power pole with their car, we were told. After some minutes, Loy announced that there was no ETA as to when the lights might come back up, so Banks came out and sang "Danny Boy" to fill the time. Then the whole cast assembled on the dark stage to take questions from the audience.
The first question: Aside from this, what's the worst thing that's happened to you in a performance. These ranged from bomb scares to the set catching on fire. The sweltering crowd - the loss of power meant a loss of ventilation on a hot summer night - enjoyed it all mightily until the electricity was restored after more than a half hour and the show went on.
Anchorage singers taking part in the production included Anastasia Jamieson as the long-suffering wife of the Bey and Kyle Gantz as his henchman. They were most effective in the ensembles, Jamieson's high notes cresting the big scenes, though Gantz got a good response to his second act aria. Toby Newman, as the servant of the wife of the Bey was another standout.
By the time the applause ended it was almost 11:30. Even in Fairbanks the sun appeared to be going down. But the crowd left in a high mood. Several Anchorage folks who made the trip to catch the show thought that on the whole it was better than the Anchorage production, also with Genaux, seen a few years ago.