Rossini’s IL TURCO IN ITALIA has never managed to catch on with the public. A flop at its 1814 premiere, the opera found occasional champions (Maria Callas being one) but has resisted being recognized as a misunderstood masterpiece. The current production at LA Opera may not change the opera’s status to repertory staple, but it makes a compelling case for the work’s musical quality and doesn’t shy away from the libretto’s original touches which, no doubt, have contributed to the opera’s obscurity.
The plot of the opera includes traditional devices of the time: a visiting potentate (the eponymous Turk), a faithless wife, her older husband and a pair of spurned lovers. But the surface giddiness is occasionally shot through with an unexpected whisper of melancholy. Add to that the bizarrely post-modern character of an author using the opera characters for inspiration in writing his play, and you have a truly original piece.
The production, originally conceived by Christof Loy for the Hamburg State Opera, has been carefully recreated by Alex Weidauer. Updated to what appears to be Naples in the late Fifties or early Sixties, the setting and costumes perfectly compliment the concept and enhance the story without cheapening the opera. Witty details abound and generate well-earned laughs. In a clever coup de theatre, which sets the tone for the rest of the production, the opera opens on a small trailer which begins to disgorge, clown car style, the entire chorus.
Unlike Rossini’s other operas, TURCO’s leading lady is not a coloratura mezzo, but a soprano loaded with pyrotechnic vocal technique. To play the sexy, adulterous and effervescent Fiorillla, LA Opera was lucky enough to bring back Nino Machaidze who had made her company debut in last year’s ELISIR production. Impressive as that debut was, her dark-hued, earthy Adina proved scanty preparation for her glamorous, enticing and thrillingly sung Fiorilla. Machaidze effortlessly navigates
Rossini’s treacherous passages while turning up the wattage in a take-no-prisoners star turn.
Although the role of the writer Prosdocimo doesn't provide many vocal challenges for veteran baritone Thomas Allen, he brings an innate sense of authority to the stage which provides an anchor for the surrounding froth. He is also quite funny. Simone Alberghini is suitably commanding and condescending as Selim, the Turk while Paolo Gavanelli (house debut) blusters wonderfully and makes comic hay of his wronged husband, Don Geronio.
Kate Lindsey is an agile and honey-voiced singer making her house debut as the Turk's rejected lover, Zaida. She is also a good enough actress to make sense of her character's more absurd moments. As Fiorilla's rejected toy-boy Don Narciso, Maxim Mironov (another debut) unveils a textbook Rossini tenor sound and manages to make the character surprisingly sympathetic.
James Conlon leads the orchestra in a buoyantly energetic reading of the score, and the Chorus is as spirited and irrepressible as the production surrounding them.
Dorothy Chandler Pavilion February 19 – March 13, 2011 www.laopera.com