THE centerpiece of Opera Pacific's 20th anniversary season, Rossini's "The Italian Girl in Algiers," opened Tuesday night at the Orange County Performing Arts Center. The 2002 Santa Fe Opera production is visually delightful, beautifully played by the Opera Pacific Orchestra and conducted masterfully by John DeMain but, with a single exception, is only adequately sung by a handsome but highly challenged cast of singers.
The bright and witty sets, by Robert Innes Hopkins, keep the observer smiling and often laughing. The multicolored, motley costumes look cheap and temporary. But Edward Hastings' inventive stage direction maintains a frothy lightheartedness in keeping with the joys of Rossini's early and irresistible score.
Best of the singers is British tenor Barry Banks, a Rossini specialist of unfailing vocal resources and stylish performance. His Lindoro carries this show. The title role of Isabella is handled with aplomb by the assured Jossie Perez, who has more confidence than her limited technique and unreliable high notes warrant. She fulfills her assignment and looks glamorous doing so but lacks the vocal virtuosity the part needs.
Richard Bernstein is mostly convincing as Mustafa, the chief villain and main comedian of the plot. But Bernstein's voice shows wear and is often reedy, and he begins the opera with more mincing and mugging than suit the character. Young Steven Condy makes a charming Taddeo, Todd Robinson a strong Haly. As Elvira and Zulma, Kristine Winkler and Kristin Rothfuss are unimpressive.
The heavyset male choristers, trained by Henri Venanzi, carry out their duties well, but wear their mixed bag of costumes with various levels of success.
Musically, the production sails along, with spectacular solo playing within the orchestra and high polish from the entire band. DeMain's leadership creates infectious pleasure from beginning to end. Three performances remain.
'The Italian Girl
Where: Opera Pacific at the Orange County Performing Arts Center, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa
When: 7:30 p.m. today and Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday
Price: $27 to $191
Info: (714) 556-2787 or www.ocpac.org