When Allegra De Vita was offered the title role in the upcoming production of Rossini’s “L’Italiana in Algeri” at Tulsa Opera, the mezzo-soprano knew it wouldn’t be a character she would struggle with. identify yourself.
“Oh, no,” De Vita said with a laugh. “It was almost like typing for me. It’s obvious that she’s a girl from southern Italy. I wasn’t going to have to dig too deep to get into that character.
“L’Italiana in Algeri”, or “The Italian in Algiers”, has at its center a young woman named Isabella who has gone in search of her fiancé, Lindoro, who has never returned from what should have been a brief trip abroad.
Her ship is wrecked on the Algerian coast and she is taken hostage by servants of Mustafa, the Turkish ruler of the region – a guy who has justly grown tired of his wife and thinks the addition of a young Italian girl to his harem would spice up his love life.
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Isabella, however, has no intention of having anything to do with Mustafa, especially when she finds out that Lindoro is now one of the ruler’s servants and is supposed to become the husband of Mustafa’s wife, of so that Mustafa will be free to pursue this Italian girl in Algiers.
“Isabella is one of the funniest of all the Rossini ladies,” said De Vita, who has sung many of these roles in the past. “She also takes control of her own destiny like no other Rossini heroine does. She knows what she wants and she will get it.
Joining De Vita in this production are Ashraf Sewailam as Mustafà, Aaron Crouch as Lindoro, Robert Mellon as Taddeo, Abigail Raiford as Elvira, Elissa Pfaender as Zulma and V. Savoy McIlwain as Haly.
Kimille Howard makes her Tulsa Opera debut as a director. Leslie Dunner, who last appeared in Tulsa leading a 2020 performance of the Tulsa Symphony, will conduct the Tulsa Opera Orchestra.
Originally from Connecticut, De Vita started taking voice lessons at age 14, but it took her a while to realize that she could make a career out of her voice.
“I would do these auditions for big conservatories and talk to the other people who audition,” she said. “They were all saying things like ‘Opera is my life, I couldn’t live without it’, and I just didn’t feel that way.”
She attended Sacred Heart University in Connecticut, where she earned a degree in biology with a major in neuroscience.
“It’s partly because I was raised by two engineers,” De Vita said with a laugh. “But I’ve always been fascinated by neuroscience, because it’s an ever-evolving field.”
While De Vita was engaged in activities such as dissecting chicken brains for her science degree, she was also participating in the university’s newly formed music program, so by her junior year, “I was really starting to gain ground with my music. And I spoke with professionals in the industry, who told me – and more importantly, convinced my parents – that it was very possible that I could have a career in opera.
She went on to earn a master’s degree in voice at Rice University, and soon performed with opera companies across the country, in roles ranging from the role of Cherubino’s pants in “The Marriage of Figaro” to title role in “Carmen.
De Vita said her work in biology helped her in some ways as an opera singer.
“I must have read so many lab reports, which exercises your critical thinking,” she said. “Opera is really a play with music, so I really like to go back to the text and dive deep and analyze it to distill all the important things in it,” she said. “I truly believe that if you don’t completely understand the text, you lose your reason to sing in the first place.”
Diving into the text of “L’Italiana in Algeri” with director Howard helped De Vita get a clear picture of the kind of person Isabella is.
“We had a lot of character conversations,” De Vita said. “My guess is she’s probably around 18, 19, an orphan who had no one to turn to when Lindoro left on this trip and never came back.
“So she goes on a hunt to find her fiancé,” she said. “Yes, she’s a fiery girl, but underneath lies a much stronger and more enduring passion, so she’s willing to go to all sorts of extremes to find the man she loves.”
Although this is De Vita’s first time performing the role of Isabella, it will be her second time with Tulsa Opera. She was part of the cast of the company’s one-time production of “Rigoletto,” which performed in October 2020 at ONEOK Field in Tulsa. She had the role of Maddalena, the sister of hitman Sparafucile.
“To be honest, I was thrilled with some of this production,” she said. “It embodied something that people of my generation really believe, that opera should be willing to reshape itself to reach a wider audience.
“But on a more visceral level, the minute I stepped onto that pitch, it was an amazing experience,” De Vita said. “We had a full house, with what I knew there must have been a lot of people who were at an opera for the first time in their lives, and they were completely absorbed in what was going on. It was truly one of the most magical experiences I have ever had, as it shows that opera can work its magic anywhere.
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