Il turco in Italia – Dramma buffo per musica in two acts to a libretto by Felice Romani after the libretto by Caterino Mazzolà, first set to music by Joseph Seydelman [sung in Italian with English surtitles]
Fiorilla – Aleksandra Kurzak
Don Narciso – Colin Lee
Don Geronio – Alessandro Corbelli
Selim – Ildebrando D’Arcangelo
Prosdocimo – Thomas Allen
Zaida – Leah-Marian Jones
Albazar – Steven Ebel
The Royal Opera Chorus
Orchestra of the Royal Opera House
Patrice Caurier & Moshe Leiser – Directors
Christian Fenouillat – Set Designer
Agostino Cavalca – Costume designs
Christophe Forey – Lighting
Reviewed by: Kevin Rogers
Reviewed: 3 April, 2010
Venue: The Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London
For only its second run in The Royal Opera’s history, Rossini’s thirteenth opera (from 1814, when the composer was 22) returned to Covent Garden in Moshe Leiser and Patrice Caurier’s sunny production. The story is lightweight, concerning quarrelling lovers and mistaken identities, plus small degrees of legerdemain from the poet Prosdocimo, keen to obtain a story for his latest opera, and finding the four principals in Naples’s fertile territory for his endeavour; similarities with Mozart’s tale of lovers makes Rossini’s opera well-known as ‘Così fan tutte II’.
The direction from the fruitful duo of Leiser and Caurier is in the tradition of screwball comedy, with some crude additions: a painting of an erupting Vesuvius (hung above the bed where Fiorilla and Selim had ‘coffee’, and the pool-boy-cum-lothario that tempts Fiorilla away at the very end were but two uncouth, humorous modern interpretations of the circumstances. Thomas Allen, as ever, makes himself felt even when not singing: his presence is sensed throughout, and his acting, superb with the equally-matched Alessandro Corbelli, sets them apart from the rest of the cast, the pair a comedic joy, knowing each other telepathically, and displaying their many years of operatic experience.
Most of this opera relies on the singers being able to throw themselves about, so it was disappointing that each of the others did not strive to dominate their scenes. When this production was new in May 2005, Cecilia Bartoli was Donna Fiorilla (a young woman married to an older man, who falls for Selim, whilst stringing along a local youth as her cicisbeo), and whilst the tender moments at the end of Act Two were then overplayed they were fine here, yet Aleksandra Kurzak was underpowered in Act One: body-language in her paean to liberated love (‘Non si dà follia maggiore’) was too subdued, though it was ably tackled. She needed to be unencumbered of whatever restraint she was feeling and to throw herself into the joys of flirtatious escapades that her character pleasures in: feistiness rather than timidity was sorely needed. Kurzak’s coloratura took some time to warm-up, and never fully developed; her Act Two song of remorse after Geronio throws her out (‘Squallida veste, e bruna’) only just captured the regret she might feel. Throughout Kurzak’s voice was tight and restricted, held back rather than flowering.
The always-welcome Maurizio Benini kept a rhythmic flow to the music, and aided Corbelli and Ildebrando D’Arcangelo in their witty and rapid dialogues: native Italians clearly being of benefit in these parts. The brooding D’Arcangelo (as the Turkish prince Selim) oozed sex appeal; no wonder his captivating bass inveigled the girls he seeks to capture. There was no apprehension when he immediately realised the possibilities that Naples can offer (‘Bella Italia, alfin ti miro’) upon his arrival, and this confidence imbued his characterisation throughout. His devilish attempt to persuade Geronio to sell Fiorilla to him (‘D’un bell’uso di Turchia’) showed D’Arcangelo’s seductive prowess and cheeky nature at its best.
Gypsy girl Zaida was timidly sung by Leah-Marian Jones, projecting suitably her initially unhappy predicament in Naples (having lost her Turkish Prince because of his suspicions of her rivals), though this was insufficient for carrying her in the rest of the opera. Her escape from Turkey (before the beginning of the opera) was aided by Albazar, sung by a vocally uninspired Steven Ebel. Colin Lee, more a greasy playboy rather than the intended cicisbeo, was similarly underwhelming, only managing to summon some stage-presence during his Act Two aria (‘Tu second ail mio disegno’) which explores love and revenge.
Once again, the Royal Opera Chorus and Orchestra were on fine form, with Rossini’s score offering the latter some fine moments: the Overture has a lovely, despondent horn solo that was played with aplomb; the comic themes were revelled in, too, along with militaristic trumpet calls, that all produced happy images in the mind’s eye.