Italian Girl delights opera audience – but BC's best kept secret is bass Randall Jakobsh as Mustafa


Italian Girl in Algiers

Vancouver Opera


Queen Elizabeth Theatre


January 26, 29. 31 and February 2nd 2008

An Italian girl in a Muslim harem?  A Korean soprano wife singing in
Italian to her German-Canadian bass husband?  Opera is so very
multicultural, and Vancouver Opera's new production of Rossini's
“Italian Girl in Algiers” is a delight!

Can you imagine anything crazier than one of the opera's stars, Randall Jakobsh playing Mustafa, dancing around “naked” behind a towel, or being “powdered” by his servants while singing to a beautiful Rossini score?

I have always loved Rossini's music.  Many generations have grown up
identifying Rossini's “William Tell Overture” as “The Lone Ranger
Theme” – the musicality burned into our brains.  The Italian
Girl in Algiers also has many memorable passages that dusted off my
early memories of listening to one of the essential classical music
collections – Rossini Overtures.

Vancouver Opera's new production of “Italian Girl In Algiers”
originally presented in 1813, is now set during the roaring '20's, a
time of mad-cap comedy described as Emily Earhart meets the Marx
Brothers.  This sets the stage for the audience to accept the absurd
comedic plots and situations that are to come, and all accompanied by a
gorgeous Rossini musical score.

Now imagine sitting in the audience, when a 1920's bi-plane flies over
your head, then sputters, crash landing on stage of the Queen Elizabeth
Theatre.  It actually happens… and the audience claps enthusiastically!

The opera opens with a super huge gigantic book on stage, that opens up to reveal the set design – the palace of the Governor of Algiers.  Just like a bedtime story,  the message is this: don't take this opera seriously… sit back and enjoy the story.

The Governor Mustafa has grown tired of  his wife Elvira, and thinks that an exotic Italian girl will bring him happiness.  He decides to send his wife off with Lindoro, an Italian slave at his court captured only 3 months earlier by Mustafa's pirates.  Suddenly, an airplane crashes, Isabella is looking for her lost love Lindoro.  The pirates take this “Italian Girl” to Mustafa who is instantly infatuated with Isabella, who is shocked to see her beloved Lindoro, who is supposedly being married off to Elvira, who is still in love with Mustafa. This is a comedy of love infatuations and a battle of the sexes begins.  Oh… and then there is Taddeo, the would-be Italian suitor of Isabella, during Lindor's absence. He accompanied Isabella in her search for Lindoro… what a stand up guy! Not!

Soprano Sandra Piques Eddy is perfect as a Katherine Hepburnish, pants wearing, independent woman named Isabella looking for her lost love Lindora, played by lyric tenor John Tessier, who was captured by pirates. Their voices are wonderful.  But despite this ensemble cast, Eddy clearly shines the brightest, as she loves her role as an Isabella who can tame men with a look or a wave.

Randall Jakobsh plays Mustafa, the governor of Algiers, who is instantly smitten by the vivaciously exotic Isabella. This is his debut performance with the Vancouver Opera, and his first appearance as Mustafa.  It's a perfect fit, and expect Jakobsh to be getting calls from around the world for this Rossini play as he brings so much life into a this hilarious role.

Sookhyung Park, plays Elvira the Governor's wife that he is handing her over to Lindora, to make way for this new “Italian Girl” to be added to his harem.  The Korean born Park, balances both her anger and love for Mustafa, and learns from Isabella what it takes to properly “train a husband.”

Rounding out the cast is Hugh Russell as Taddeo, who brings additional comic relief.  Mustafa wants to impress Isabella, and so he names Taddeo as Grand Kaimakan (a lieutenant position amongst his followers).  Taddeo meanwhile does everything he can to thwart Mustafa's advances on Isabella.

But who is Randall Jakobsh, and why should BC opera goers be proud of him?

Imagine a younger, sexier, slimmer Ben Heppner singing Bass – and born and rasied in Vernon BC.  This is Randall.

If there ever was a role made for Randall Jakobsh to demonstrate his abilities, this might be it.  It allows Randall to be charming and sexy, but this also pushes him in his first bufo-comedy role.  He shared with me that this is the hardest role he has ever done, and he was quite anxious about his Vancouver Opera debut when I talked with him on Boxing Day in Vernon. 

But after watching Jakobsh on stage in not much more than a “towel” while singing in a “bath” while the audience laughed at the unexpected rubber ducky, we can all be assured that Randall's star is rising.  He was calm, and looked to be having fun in his role, even when not singing.  He asked what we thought of his “dancing bear” as he hammed it up on stage singing about his infatuation with the Italian Girl, while his slaves powdered him and washed him “behind the towel.”  I had to laugh because when Randall had come over to the house to visit in Vernon, it had been us sitting in the hot tub, and inviting him to come join us.

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