Gioachino ROSSINI (1792–1868)
Il Turco in Italia Dramma buffo in two acts (1814)
Selim, a womanising Turkish Prince captivated by Fiorilla – Simone Alaimo (bass); Fiorilla, capricious wife of Don Geronio – Myrto Papatanasiu (soprano); Geronio, elderly husband of Fiorilla – Bruno de Simone (baritone); Don Narciso, admirer of Fiorilla – Antonino Siragusa (tenor); Prosdocimo, a poet and friend of Geronio – Vincenzo Taormina (baritone); Zaida, enamoured of Selim – Antonella Nappa (mezzo); Albazar, confident of Selim, Federico Lepre (tenor)
Orchestra and Chorus of the Teatro Carlo Felice/Jonathan Webb
rec. live, Teatro Carlo Fenice 2009
Sung in Italian and performed in the edition by Margaret Bent for the Rossini Foundation
Directed by Egisto Marcucci in a remake of the 1983 original Pesaro Festival production in memory of Emanuele Luzzati the original set designer. Costume Designer: Santuzza Cali
Video Director: Andrea Dorigo
PCM Stereo, DD 5.1. Aspect 16:9. Region Code 0. DVD 9 NTSC. Colour. Subtitles in Italian, English, German, French and Spanish. Synopsis in English, French and German
ARTHAUS MUSIK DVD 101 391 [162:00]

The success of Tancredi and L'Italiana in Algeri, premiered at Venice's La Fenice and San Benedetto theatres in February and May 1813 launched Rossini on an unstoppable career. It saw him become the most prestigious opera composer of his time. Whilst the success of these works brought commissions from La Scala neither of his next two operas, both commissioned by that prestigious theatre, were considered a success at their premieres. The first of the commissions, Aureliano in Palmira, opened the Carnival (winter) season on 26 December 1813. Giovanni Velluti (1761-1861) the last of the great castrati sang the hero Arsace. It was the only time that Rossini wrote a work for the castrato voice. Despite its modest reception on its first night Aureliano in Palmira was given fourteen times in the Milan season. The second of the Milan duo, Il Turco in Italia, Rossini's thirteenth opera, was initially seen by the Milanese as a repeat of L'Italiana in Algeri and they thought themselves short-changed. The Milanese might well have considered themselves cheated in another way had they realised that several numbers, particularly the finale of act two as well as recitative, are thought to be by another person as evidenced by the hand in the manuscript (Gossett. Divas and Scholars. Chicago University Press 2006 pp. 223 and 269). Whilst Rossini later pillaged the score for the overture to Sigismundo (Venice, 1814) and Otello in far away in Naples (1816) he never re-wrote any of this music (ibid Gossett). That not written by Rossini is an integral part of the opera and vital to the character of the work. It continues to be present in the Critical Edition used here. Despite these factors Il Turco in Italia received a reasonable number of performances in Milan and was quickly recognised elsewhere in Italy and abroad.

The libretto by Felice Romani concerns Fiorilla, the capricious and flighty wife of an elderly husband Geronio. She puts herself around male company in general and has in tow an ardent admirer, Narcisco. Fiorilla takes a fancy to Selim, a Turkish Prince who arrives in Italy to survey the local ladies and who quickly becomes besotted by her (Ch.16). Selim has already spurned his long-time lover Zaida who is heartbroken and pursues him. The narrative is completed by the fact that a poet, Prosdocimo, looking for a story for his next play, sees in the circumstances of the various liaisons the perfect situation for his plot, which he helps along from time to time. All ends well with Fiorilla duly contrite about her behaviour and Selim and Zaide back together. The poet has his plot and only Narcisco seems left in the air his passion unsated.

This 1983 Pesaro production was first seen in Genoa in 1987. In this latest revival, using what look like refurbished sets, it seems the director has added an extraneous white dressed clown figure who roams around seeming to attempt to facilitate the plot when the poet fails to do so. He generally gets in the way, or distracts attention from more important action. Add the video director’s excessive propensity for close-ups of a singer’s face rather than the scene and I start with two very negative feelings. Whilst the costumes are colourful, particularly in the masked scene of act two (Chs.53-57), the stage sets are generally sparse and dependent on drapes. There is the exception of the scene in Geronio’s lounge, which is dominated by two very large seats. The lighting is a plus and with the blue of the drapes adds mood at various stages. The arrival of Selim’s boat is poorly conveyed (Chs.10-12). This was better handled in the 2002 Pesaro production, again with minimalist sets, that features on the 2007 Pesaro reprise issued by Naxos (see review). The attempt at a stage within a stage by rather poorly painted opera boxes at the stage sides does not help. If a designer wants to go down that pathway he should, in my view, do it properly with trompe l’oeil rather than with a doll’s house effect.

In my review of the Pesaro performances of 2007, I praised the conducting of Antonello Allemandi who moves the action along with brio and navigates the weaker parts of the score with aplomb. Regrettably, this is not the case here. On the rostrum Jonathan Webb shows insufficient sympathy with the Rossini idiom and fails to bring much verve or vivacity to the proceedings. A mediocre singing cast does not help him. The physical size of the poet Vincenzo Taormina alone puts some humour into the story as he towers above the wimpish and dry-toned Geronio of Bruno de Simone and the Don Narciso of Antonino Siragusa whose acting ability seems wholly inadequate. Siragusa hits the notes rather tightly and without much expression in the voice or on the face. His dry tone is not ingratiating (Chs.13 and 50-51). At least de Simone shows some spine, if not much more vocal grace, as Geronio bars his wife from the matrimonial home.

If this performance were to be rescued, all would depend on the two faithless lovers, Myrto Papatanasiu as Fiorilla and Simone Alaimo as Selim. The latter is a past master in these buffa roles and although he acts well and sings with good characterisation and expression his voice is now getting dry and is certainly no match for Ivo Vinco on Naxos. I missed out on seeing Myrto Papatanasiu as Violetta for Welsh National Opera last autumn (2009) as she was detained in Greece for the start of the company’s tour due to illness. On the basis of this performance she would have sung a good act one with its coloratura passages, but would have struggled in the last two acts. Her voice is light and flexible but lacks variety and depth in the middle registers. As an actress she comes across as altogether too bland in her reactions. She is certainly no match for Alessandra Marianelli in Pesaro 2007 whose stage pertness and sung and acted portrayal is of an altogether higher standard.

The booklet clearly lists the divisions of the action in the sixty-seven Chapters. It also includes an essay on the general response to Rossini’s standing and the composition of opera buffa and Il Turco in Italia in particular. It also deals with the work’s re-emergence in the second half of the twentieth century stimulated by Visconti’s Rome production of 1952 with Callas as Fiorilla. In between the two parts of the essay is a synopsis of the plot, regrettably not Chapter-related. All aspects of the essay are given in English, French and German.

I have seen Arthaus Music’s other DVD offering of Il Turco in Italia, from Zurich with Cecilia Bartoli and Ruggero Raimondi as conducted by Welser-Möst. It’s over-active and even over the top (100 369). Somewhere between the two extremes of that performance and this rather dreary offering there is a vital Rossini opera buffa struggling to get out. It may not be of the class of the composer’s better-known opera buffi, Il Barbiere or La Cenerentola, let alone its Venice predecessor in this genre L'Italiana in Algeri, but it certainly deserves better than it gets in this performance.

Robert J. Farr

Very run-of-the-mill … fails to do justice to Rossini’s creation… see Full Review