Story: Mustafa, the bey (ruler) of Algiers on the Barbary Coast, has grown tired of his servile harem as well as his wife Elvira. He plans to divorce Elvira, despite her many entreaties, and orders Haly, captain of his Corsairs (Barbary pirates) to find one of those feisty Italian girls for him or face execution.

A shipwreck while in search of her missing fiance Lindoro leaves Isabella and her older Italian companion Taddeo stranded on the Algerian coast, where they are found by Haly. He brings them back to Mustafa’s palace, where Mustafa is delighted to meet the unimpressed Isabella.

While at the palace, Isabella is startled to see Lindoro, now a slave to Mustafa who has been ordered by the bey to marry Elvira once Mustafa claims Isabella. Convinced by Lindoro that he isn’t in love with Elvira but rather has been threatened to marry her, Isabella then concocts a plan for her and Lindoro to escape back to Italy.

Lindoro tells Mustafa that Isabella has proclaimed the bey to be a ‘pappataci,’ a very important person whose primary role is to eat, drink and sleep. Mustafa is delighted to hear this, and with his soldiers eats and drinks to excess. When Isabella and Lindoro promise freedom to the Italian slaves who have been kidnapped by Mustafa’s forces, they band together and head to an Italian ship seen on shore.

Mustafa finally figures out what is happening but with his soldiers drunk is powerless to stop Isabella and the others. Frustrated by the wily ways of the Italian woman, he reunites with his ever-loving wife Elvira.

Highlights: Winter Opera Saint Louis serves up a pleasing presentation of a spirited comic opera written by a youthful Gioachino Rossini and first performed in 1813. The performance features a delightful interpretation of the composer’s score by conductor Darwin Aquino and his orchestra.

Other Info: Winter Opera’s presentation takes place in the Pillsbury Chapel performance venue on the campus of Missouri Baptist University in West County. Rossini’s infectious melodies make for a welcome tonic on a cold winter day.

Rossini set his music to a libretto by Angela Anelli. Haven’t noticed this before, but the accomplished Winter Opera orchestra led by Winter Opera music director Aquino is nearly three-fourths women. Their reading of Rossini’s captivating music makes this version appealing and upbeat throughout.

Kate Tombaugh’s impressive mezzo-soprano soars in her winning interpretation of the high-spirited and determined Isabella. She leads stage director Eric Gibson’s cast with a favorable performance which sets the tone for Winter Opera’s production.

There’s also fine work by bass-baritone Alex Soare as the imperious but easily duped Mustafa, whose thick-witted ways offer a suitable contrast to the quick-thinking Isabella. Baritone Jason Mallory serves well in the part of the besieged Haly, who escapes Mustafa’s misdirected wrath with the good fortune of Isabella’s shipwreck.

Tenor Gregory Schmidt delivers Lindoro’s arias in convincing and accomplished fashion, while Nicholas Ward’s baritone shapes many of the opera’s comic lines in the role of the buffoonish Taddeo, who foolishly considers himself a rival for Isabella’s affections.

Holly Flack’s coloratura soprano frequently is used to moan and wail in the part of the vacuous Elvira, and Felicia Gavilanes puts her fine mezzo-soprano musical instrument to good use in the role of Elvira’s dutiful servant Zulma.

Scott Loebl’s scenic design provides a simple backdrop for the early 19th century, northern Africa setting, nicely illuminated with Natalie Arco’s lighting design. Costume designer JC Krajicek decks the performers out in a colorful array of outfits which pinpoint the characters and setting for the work.

Gibson keeps everything moving at a sprightly pace, ideal for Rossini’s mirthful and enchanting score. Winter Opera’s L’Italiana in Algeri, under Aquino’s delightful touch, offers a welcome chance to hear some of Rossini’s engaging score in accessible style.

Opera: L’Italiana in Algieri (The Italian Girl in Algiers)

Group: Winter Opera Saint Louis

Venue: Pillsbury Chapel, Missouri Baptist University, 1 College Park Drive

Dates: January 27 at 3 p.m.

Tickets: $10-$55; contact 865-0038 or winteroperastl.org

Photos courtesy of Convergence Media