Glyndebourne’s new production of Il Turco in Italia sets Act Two in a delicatessen owned by Don Geronio, whose flirtatious wife Fiorilla is a prime character in Rossini’s charming opera giocosa. When she eventually causes him to snap, he tells her to return to her previous poverty in Sorrento, and the resulting mea culpa from Fiorilla was gloriously sung by Elena Tsallagova. This was the high point of a performance in which the terrific cast worked beautifully together, under the inspiring baton of Sesto Quatrini conducting a reduced orchestra from the London Philharmonic. Act One, however , was less successful.
The story is the struggle of the author Prosdocimo to write a comedy. Inspiration strikes with the gypsy girl Zaida (Désirée Baraula) who has fled the harem of the wealthy Turkish Prince Selim, accused of infidelity by a jealous rival. She still loves the prince, who suddenly lands in Italy and makes a beeline for the pretty Fiorilla, whose lover Don Narciso (Michele Angelini) and weak husband Geronio (Rodion Pogossov) are much put out by this new development. Difficulties lie ahead, but the writer Prosdocimo has now found his story. He helps his characters along, for example by pushing Geronio to be more assertive in order to create more tension.
In Mariam Clément’s production, his finding of the story in Act One is too clever by half. We see not only the usual surtitles, but writings that appear on the wall at the back of the stage showing Prosdocimo’s attempts to develop his ideas and characters. These are his jottings of characters and relationships, but also typed versions of a written text. It’s all too much, and makes for confusion. The fact that Prosdocimo is a successful author is clearly explained to the audience during the overture, showing a book launch for earlier work by him, but this is unnecessary. I realise that directors today feel the need to do something to amuse the audience during the overture, but unless there is some intriguing back story, the less fuss the better. After all, Rossini’s music is a delight in itself. As his friend Paganini wrote, his operas “hum with life, like a beehive on a sunny day”.
In this opening performance, Alessio Arduini made a very convincing and strongly voiced Prosdocimo, his black hair tied in a pony tail, and Nahuel Di Pierro a bold and firmly-voiced Prince Selim. This delightful work by the 22-year-old Rossini, with a libretto by the 26-year- old Felice Romani, both of whom went on to be great creators of Italian opera, needs a less complex staging. The director Ms Clément has had notable successes in Britain, such as Donizetti’s Don Pasquale and Poliuto at Glyndebourne and Chabrier’s L’Etoile at the Royal Opera House. Her work can be subtle and fun, but overdoing the subtlety in Act One makes it hard to watch, though her staging was redeemed by a lively Act Two.
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