Rossini’s Italian comic opera brims with melody and colour as two pairs of lovers are lost and found in a hectic Italian tour. Director Simon Phillips sets the action in a beach bar in Naples in the 1950s
NOTE: This review is based on the Sydney premiere of the production. In Melbourne the Turk is played by Shane Lowrencev. Emma Matthews plays Fiorilla in both cities.
Rossini’s rarely performed 1814 Italian comic opera Il Turco in Italia already shows in his early career the mastery of melody, orchestration and operatic conventions that would stampede to a halt with his 1829 French language William Tell and its march made famous by The Lone Ranger. (The most productive hit factory in the business abandoned the form after writing 35 operas in two decades. Even the great Verdi managed only 25 between 1839 and 1893.) If Rossini sometimes seems formulaic, the volume of his output required it, and at least his product is servicable and often very beautiful.
Simon Phillips' new production for Opera Australia set in a beach bar in Naples in the 1950s adds so much colour and flair that nobody will be reading their programs in boredom: just the surtitled translation into contemporary vernacular Australian provide plenty of amusing embellishment, even without looking down at the delightfully stylish ramble of colour and form in the costumes and sets by Gabriela Tylesova.
The plot, which lies somewhere between commedia dell'arte and Benny Hill, is a love hexagon pivoting around the nymphomaniacal Fiorella (Emma Matthews) and her elderly husband Geronio. Conal Coad's fine acting transcends the stereotypical cuckold, and Matthews' dazzling technical prowess remind us that there's some serious art and technique below all the fluff and gloss. The rising star was Samuel Dundas as the poet/bartender, utterly convincing and endearing in a role that was a transparent theatrical device even in its day: a writer within the story writing a story about... Anyway, librettist Felice Romani's setup provides those wonderful finales like The Barber of Seville or The Marriage of Figaro where six (or here seven) singers are making different comments about the absurd situation, and it can all be enjoyed at once. You can only get this with opera.