Rossini: The Italian Girl in Algiers

Rossini was born in 1792 in Pesaro, Italy and died in France in 1868. Amongst other works he was a prolific writer of operas, both tragic and comic. He wrote thirty-nine in less than twenty years, becoming one of the most successful and popular operatic composers of his time.

The Italian Girl in Algiers (L’Italiana in Algieri) was the first of Rossini’s comic operas and was first performed in Venice May 1813. It took him just twenty-seven days to write and was his third opera to be performed in Venice that year. It was an immediate success.

The plot is introduced with an ominous opening in this lively overture. The Italian girl, Isabella, is searching for her lost lover, Lindoro, who has been enslaved by the Bey of Algiers. The ship she is on is shipwrecked in Algiers, and the Bey falls in love with her but is eventually outwitted as Lindoro and Isabella sail away together.

The overture opens with a quiet pizzicato in the strings. This is followed by the oboe as it enters with the first melody, its double reed sound setting an oriental mood. The music gathers momentum and continues with the rollicking freneticism Rossini employs in many of his comic operas. It is interspersed with percussion (cymbal and triangle) to suggest the “Turkish” character of the piece. There are several solo entries within the overture with each instrument suggesting the interlocking plotting of the characters in the opera. This sets the mood for the light entertainment in an exotic setting that is to follow in the opera.