Il Turco in Italia, Royal Opera, April 2010Posted on 4 April 2010
Rossini was just 22 when he composed this delightful opera, following his great success with Tancredi and L’Italiana in Algeri when he was 20 and 21. The libretto is brilliant — the work of Felice Romani, arguably the greatest Italian librettist of his day. His texts came slightly later than those of Lorenzo da Ponte who wrote the librettos for three of Mozart’s greatest operas, including Cosi fan tutti which, like Turco, features an older man who is planning the whole story. Where Cosi has Don Alfonso, Turco has a poet and opera librettist, Don Prosdocimo, portrayed here by a charming Italian named Thomas Allen, the same name as a well-known English opera singer — perhaps they were the same person. They certainly looked the same, but the Italian was so fluent and natural . . . words fail me — he was wonderful. Added to that we had the superbly comic Alessandro Corbelli as Don Geronio, a cuckold whose younger wife, the flighty and sexy Fiorilla was delightfully played by Aleksandra Kurzak. She looked a real temptress with her mischievous manner and gorgeous dresses. No wonder she had a lover, a young fellow called Don Narciso, very ably sung by Colin Lee. But as soon as the very handsome Ildebrando d’Arcangelo landed in Italy as Selim the Turk, she went for him, and he for her. After a brief acquaintance they immediately go off to her husband’s house and jump into bed together, just below the picture of an erupting volcano.
This brings me to the sparkling production by Moshe Leiser and Patrice Courier with colourful sets by Christian Fenouillat, lit by Christophe Forey, and 1960s costumes by Agostino Cavalca. It’s La dolce vita, and at one point the Turk, Don Geronio and Don Narciso arrive on stage by taxi, Fiat Cinquecento, and motor scooter. Don Narciso sported an Elvis quiff of hair and a comb, fitting that same period when Elvis Presley was producing songs such as It’s Now or Never, with its melody taken from the old Neapolitan song O Sole Mio.
The story is full of twists and turns, and includes a gypsy girl named Zaida, well sung by Leah-Marian Jones, who has left Selim’s household but still loves him. There are scenes of two women pulling at one man, and two men competing for the same woman. There is a very funny restaurant scene with Thomas Allen and Alessandro Corbelli, which later becomes an argument between Corbelli and d’Arcangelo, lifting chairs and charging each other. When the waiter tries to intervene he is caged between the legs of the two chairs. The directors have made such hilarious incidents appear entirely natural, though of course they have had wonderful performers to work with, and earlier in the week when Alessandro Corbelli gave an extended interview at the Royal Opera House, his slight pauses before answering showed a natural comic timing.
And then of course . . . there is the music. As soon as the overture started, the conductor, Maurizio Benini gave Rossini plenty of fizz, and during the performance he allowed the singers freedom with their comic timing, while keeping the orchestra in phase with the stage action. Rossini’s music is full of fun, and this production has a sense of spontaneity, as if it were Commedia dell’arte. The stylized sea, and the evening scene with a crescent moon in an azure sky, recalled for me the song “It’s only a paper moon over a cardboard sea”. But Thomas Allen switched on the moon, and everything was magic. What a shame there was a sprinkling of empty seats in the higher price categories. Perhaps this was owing to the Easter weekend, but the Amphitheatre and the slips were full of appreciative opera lovers.