What: The Italian Girl in Algiers.
Where: Aotea Centre, to June 6.

The Italian Girl in Algiers

launched this year's NBR New Zealand Opera season in a riot of lime green, chintz and glamour, complete with a bevy of bodacious babes.

There were no turbaned potentates and harems on the Aotea stage but, instead, we saw the cast and crew of a Latino soap opera, as director Colin McColl presented his on-screen and behind-the-scenes take on Rossini's opera.

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Set numbers were ingeniously played out against a chroma-key screen, enabling us to see the characters on screen, duetting on water-skis, quartetting on a luxury yacht or, in the case of the heroine, playing the femme fatale against a Renaissance Venus.

Backstage goings-on were dished out in the snap 'n' crackle of recitative, while scriptgirls and make-up teams hovered and fussed over the stars.

It was wonderfully wacky, even inspiring the occasional applause over the music. Only after the interval were credibility and logic tested. Best not to ask why Taddeo (played by Warwick Fyfe) was dressed up like a panto Arab for his Kaimakan turn; and McColl's split-screen filming, so clever at the end of the first act, was rather superfluous by the second.

Wendy Dawn Thompson was one hip chick as Isabella, serving Rossini magnificently to the last roulade, even while swooping around Taddeo on her Segway.

Christian Baumgartel skilfully negotiated Lindoro's unforgiving coloratura, playing the priggish small-screen hero.

When a slight vocal strain set in, as the televised Baumgartel pouted and postured against a backdrop of roses, it was all part of the joke.

Similarly effective was Conal Coad's raw, close-up outburst of fury, although the singer's Mustafa had the assurance of experience, right down to an impressive catalogue of "sneezes" in the great Quintet.

Fyfe, too, deserves special praise for a Taddeo who was a creature of flesh and blood, with some of the finest singing of the evening.

Katherine Wiles, Richard Green and Kristen Darragh were strong in their supporting roles, with Wiles particularly effective as the trophy wife Elvira.

Moments of nervousness in the helter-skelter ensembles will no doubt be ironed out by the second performance and the sparkling production owes much to the flair and light touch of musical director, Wyn Davies, with the ever-reliable Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra in the pit.