Il turco in Italia (ROH, 20 April 2015)
Operas about opera tend to be tongue-in-cheek. This one is blowing a raspberry. Amico Felice Romani by way of none other than Caterino Mazzola of Mozart’s Tito fame sometimes tries a little too hard to be funny but the central concept is, as usual with Rossini, humour based on keen self awareness. So soon after Adriano in Siria, Don Geronio and Fiorilla’s reconcilliation duet (she compares herself to a thirsty vine, he to an elm left naked without his vine) came off even more hilarious. The production goes the same route – no stereotype left behind.
Fiorilla: Aleksandra Kurzak
Selim: Ildebrando D’Arcangelo
Don Geronio: Alessandro Corbelli
Don Narciso: Barry Banks
Prosdocimo: Thomas Allen
Zaida: Rachel Kelly
Albazar: Luis Gomes
Conductor: Evelino Pidò | Orchestra and Chorus of the ROH
When writer’s block strikes, Prodoscimo the librettist literally runs into walking cliches: the cuckold, the cheating wife, her current lover, the exotic prince, the exotic prince’s even more exotic true love and the true love’s current lover. The opera writes itself. Crucial to Rossini, the lone tenor (the cheating wife’s lover of the week) is mercilessly taken the piss out of, the insatiable soprano is busy hunk-hopping and the (faithful in her heart) mezzo marries the (faithful in his heart) bass. Quite the righteous order of fachs 😉
A curious thing happened: as the opera progressed I went from slightly nonplussed to the brink of fandom regarding Aleksandra Kurzak’s voice. Her last interventions comprised some of the most pleasurable belcanto singing I’d heard in a while. On record I didn’t exactly care one way or another and so I wasn’t itching with curiosity to hear her live. But she squarely won me over with a very nicely burnished tone and relaxed agility that suited the role to a t. I guess for complete surrender I would’ve liked a bit even more chutzpah in her acting, though it was by no means poor in a production that asks the singers to do a lot of stuff whilst singing.
D’Arcangelo, on the other hand, made less of an impression. Don’t get me wrong, it was fine, intelligent singing with very well timed “romantic” touches but I missed a mocking/knowing wink in the voice and kept thinking back to Francois Lis in La pietra del paragone. It’s one of those things you either have or you don’t. I guess it could be argued that Selim is more of an innocent abroad type than funny per se. His acting was very good in that context.
Alessandro Corbelli was perfect as the put-upon husband and Barry Banks was hilariously ridiculous as the lover of the week. Rachel Kelly was convincing as the faithful Zaida. Having seen her a few times now I think this was the most solid singing I’ve heard from her. Thomas Allen seems to have made a second career out of these witty behind the scene types.
I’ve been quite a fan of Pidò’s belcanto conducting and he didn’t disappoint, keeping things very sprightly and winky. Also nice job the flute(s) several times during the opera, such as the “Turkish vs Italian customs” duet between Selim and Don Geronio. Another shout-out should go to the timpanist who went to town during the Act I finale. Initially I thought it was way too loud but then decided it suited the zaniness of the whole thing.
The production in bold colours illustrating the Naples shore worked very well. I was very pleased with the chunky boat on which Selim arrived (complete with unfolding stair). The whole scene looked to me like Rossini was mocking his own Di tanti palpiti. There is at least one instance where he clearly reprised a few bars from Tancredi.
All in all, it was good fun, nothing earth shattering but a very enjoyable evening for anyone who likes belcanto and can take a good dose of slapstick.