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05 Apr 2010

Il Turco in Londra

It may be possible that there is no more effervescent entertainment on stage in London now than the tirelessly clever revival of Il Turco in Italia now playing at the Royal Opera House.

Gioachino Rossini: Il turco in Italia

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. Directors: Patrice Caurier, Moshe Leiser. Set Designer: Christian Fenouillat. Costume designs: Agostino Cavalca. Lighting: Christophe Forey. Conductor: Maurizio Benini.

Above: Aleksandra Kurzak as Fiorilla and Ildebrando D’Arcangelo as Selim

All photos by Clive Barda courtesy of The Royal Opera


As imagined by the directorial team of Moshe Leiser and Patrice Caurier, Turco recalls the heyday of 60’s Italian cinema, with images unashamedly evocative of La Dolce Vita, 8-1/2 et al, and comedy rendered in the vein of a rather ribald sitcom; I Love Lucy with a fully functioning queen size bed, instead of those two maddening twins, if you will. (Where was Little Ricky conceived in that chaste boudoir?)

Mssrs. Leiser and Caurier waste no time in jump-starting the action with (mostly) meaningful busy-ness that is (mostly) cleanly executed by the well-tutored ROH chorus under the direction of Renato Balsadonna. Amid much amassed rushing on- and off-stage, and much laying on of (mostly) primary colors on gliding flats, the all-important Pirandellian narrator Prosdocimo is dynamically introduced, and he immediately engages the audience directly in his quest to write the very opera we are viewing.

TURCO-100331_0436-LEE AS NARCISO-(C)BARDA.pngColin Lee as Narciso

The inventiveness never flags, and it is to the directors’ credit that they manage to (mostly) avoid upstaging stars and story with distracting business. And when they score (which is often), they score big. Can there have been a more spectacular star entrance than that devised for the white-clad Selim, back to us, atop the massive prow of a yacht that tracks into view upstage, complete with pop-up Turkish flag? As the bass turns around to let us size him up visually just before he sings, it completes a perfectly judged dramatic moment. The preening Narciso rides in on a motor bike, another telling character introduction. Would that Fiorilla’s rather weak entrance have had the same cheeky punch. Still, the lady gets to roll around on the afore-mentioned bed in a passionately madcap sex show with her horny Turk, that is, until Don Geronio lurches through the door effecting a highly comical ‘show-itus interruptus.’

Principals arrive for the meeting on the beach on all mode of transport, snazzy sedan, cheap compact, and the tenor-topped Vespa; and Selim’s subsequent making out with Zaida in the back seat was a goof that resonated with 60’s park-and-snog atmosphere. The cast was exceptionally well blocked and the whole evening was crafted with well-defined character relationships as evidenced by meaningful, varied stage business.

That said, there was an occasional mis-step. Or minced step. When the chorus does those supposed-to-be-funny-pattering-feet-run-abouts, well, we are drawn out of an otherwise honest evening by the falesehood of the movement. This Turco is so overwhelmingly funny and delightful because of its honest trust in the material, that such insincere applications matter. I would urge the team to re-look the staging to eliminate those few fleeting distractions. And an inherent problem in today’s’ opera world remains that the (clever) surtitles sometimes get the laugh in lieu of, or in advance of the singer/director. Maybe delaying the punchline projection would give the performer the advantage?

TURCO-100331_0079-PRODUCTION IMAGE-(C)CLIVE BARDA.pngScene from Il turco in Italia

The directorial duo was given stellar support in their efforts starting with an eye-popping, riotously colorful set design by Christian Fenouillat. The pleasing clutter and motion of flats at the top of One filled the space with a volatile, multi-layered geometric design, with floating blocks of color reminiscent of, say, Mark Rothko. While the texturing of the set pieces seemed a little rudimentary on occasion, there is no doubt that it functioned beautifully, constantly morphing into such surprises as the fold out bed room (complete with a painting of an erupting Vesuvius over the head board), and a 60’s Kitsch disco complete with mirror ball for the party scene.

Of equal quality were the well-gauged costumes by Agostino Cavalca. Fiorilla was got-up as a Gina Lollobrigida stand-in and her glamor knew no bounds. Va-va-voom. Narciso’s yellow Elvis-meets-the Pillsbury-Dough-boy pop-rocker jumpsuit was giddily prankish. And the manly, well-tailored costumes for the title character managed to make him look handsomely exotic rather than stock-issue-silly. Indeed, the entire ensemble of performers was clothed in character-specific attire in a well-calculated color palette. Christophe Forey’s spot-on (pun intended) lighting was a critical component in the over-all triumph of design.

As Selim, Ildebrando d’Arcangelo swept all before him with a commanding presence, good comic sensibilities, amorous abandon, and oh, yes, an imposing world class bass voice with the suavity and richness of a dark Godiva chocolate sauce. He must own this role right now, so definitive was his performance.

Young Aleksandra Kurzak had much to recommend her as Fiorilla: a secure, silvery lyric soprano with excellent agilty; a lovely physical appearance; a supremely confident stage demeanor; superior acting skills. This was a beautifully sung account, cleanly and effortlessly delivered, save for a bit of sraight-toned stridency that crept into the very loudest notes above the staff. However, unlike her other successful repertoire (Adina, Susanna, Norina), Fiorilla asks for that extra measure of Divadom that is not yet hers to command. This is a vehicle that cries out for the unique fire-power and charismatic gifts of a Callas, a Sills, a Bartoli. If only Ms. Kurzak could go the the Evita shop and buy a “little touch of star quality,” for she decidedly has all the other goods and then some. Ah well, she is young and gifted. My bet is that time and experience will find her growing ever further into this role assumption

If his securely sung and impersonated Prosdocimo is any evidence Thomas Allen’s illustrious career remains an evergreen joy. The buffo Alessandro Corbelli acquitted himself exceptionally well as the weary Geronio, missing nary a nuance as the demoralized spouse. Leah-Marian Jones was a lovely, and lively Zaida, her plummy vocalizing a wonderful complement to Aleksandra’s limpid soprano. Collin Lee’s light-voiced tenor had all the pleasing notes in place as Narciso, although there was occasional gear-shifting around the passaggio that made for a handful of clumsy musical phrasings. Jette Parker Young Artist Steven Ebel made an assured impression as Albazar.

On this occasion, the pit seemed off form initially with Maurizio Benini leading a rather scrappy overture. There was little fire or presence at the downbeat, and the horn solo was not only a hair under pitch but also sounded like it was well off-stage. It wasn’t until the jaunty string figure re-appeared that the band seemed to settle into a more inspired comic frame of mind. There were also some rhythmic mis-connects with the chorus getting ahead, then Geronio in his patter, then the chorus again, then Narciso, that are atypical of Covent Garden’s high standard. However, by a third of the way into Act One the musical ensemble settled down, and the whole thing began to sparkle. No doubt future performances will have righted these minor imperfections.

All told, London’s Il Turco in Italia is an engaging evening of witty stagecraft, rife with winning portrayals, and featuring secure singing from some of the day’s top artists. In short, ROH has served up a veritable Turkish Delight.

James Sohre

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