The cast was a pretty impressive line-up of professionals, including a couple of locally based singers who've made it up the ladder to the Met and New York City Opera. Isabella is a fabulous vehicle for a mezzo soprano with a big personality and the vocal chops to sing high and low, slow and fast, with flamboyant coloratura (Marilyn Horne owned this role for years). Sandra Piques Eddy, who's been singing featured secondary parts at the Met, may well be in that league, with her big, ripe voice, comedic skills, and svelte glamour. She's one of my favorite Mozart singers. She dominated this production, as she had to, but I was also hearing a coarsening of her timbre, with less than elegant loud high notes, and brassy, almost baritone low notes. She was having — and giving us — a good time, but she sounded most beautiful in the rare moments she was singing most quietly. I wish that she had found — or that Minter had helped her to find — greater individuality in her characterization.
With his big voice and confident stage presence, Boston favorite David Kravitz, who debuted last season with NYC Opera, made more than most baritones ever do of the role of Taddeo, Isabella's older admirer who poses as her uncle. Pompous and cowardly, stuffy and shrinking, this was a broad but amusingly detailed characterization (perhaps Minter deserves some of the credit).
Tenor Bradley Williams was an appealing Lindoro, the lover Isabella has traveled from Italy to find. Given how lame the translation was, it's a pity Williams's diction was so clear. Vocally, once he warmed up, he was solid, though he didn't have the ideal sweet sound for this part. Bass-baritone Eric Downs was a fine Mustapha, his voice both strong (with impressive lower-basement tones) and warm. He got into the spirit of being awarded the "Order of Pappataci" (someone who eats and sleeps and doesn't have to pay attention to what's going on around him). As Mustapha's frustrated wife, soprano Sara Jakubiak was mostly louder than she needed to be, with an unpleasantly shrill high C. Rossini's chorus of Italian sailors, guards, and eunuchs was reduced to a terrific vocal quartet (Sean Lair, Michael Kuhn, Stephen Humeston, Joshua Taylor), who had some of the evening's better shticks. On their haunches, bouncing and panting lustfully for the newly arrived Isabella, they gladly handed their guns over to her. Julia Mintzer, as a member of the harem, and David Lara, as Mustapha's right-hand man, were both excellent.
For a summertime treat, you could hardly fault this production. But it came nowhere near embodying the way Rossini, early in his career, almost couldn't control his own overflowing imagination and wit.