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Il Turco in Italia

Royal Opera House Debut

IThas taken almost 200 years for Rossini's Il Turco in Italia to arrive at Covent Garden, but it has in all its colourful splendour and what a triumph it is. Think Cosi Fan Tutti meets Ariadne aux Naxos and you're just about there.

Directors Moshe Leiser and Patrice Caurier have set the opera in the late 1950s/early 1960s, which is reflected by Christian Fenouillat's rectangle, moveable, brightly coloured set, the Italian cars, a Vespa and teddy boy haircuts and clothes. It looks more ENO than Royal Opera House, so perhaps it is the breath of fresh air the House needed after the dreadful 1984.

It has also launched the summer season in style. With big names such as Anna Netrebko, Angela Gheorghiu and, the biggest of them all, Placido Domingo to come, Cecilia Bartoli kicked off a great month or so ahead and did herself a lot of favours here, eschewing the type of vocal gymnastics she is known for to put on a vibrant, funny, lyrical performance. She was also sexy, and I don't think that has been said about Bartoli for some time.

Wandering Eye

Il Turco, like Cosi, provides a confusion (as a good as collective noun as you could find in these circumstances) of relationships, and holding it together is the masterful Thomas Allen, who is a delight to watch and, sorry Bryn, but our greatest opera asset.

Bartoli is Fiorilla, whose eye wanders whenever a good-looking man comes into view. The target in this case is Selim (Ildebrando D'Arcangelo), a Turkish prince, who arrives on a big sailing ship. Selim, though, is already spoken for by Zaida (Heather Shipp), one of a band of gypsies who steal possessions, including clothes in a marvellously funny scene, from the gullible people promenading along the beachfront.

Fiorilla is married to the much older Don Geronio (Alessandro Corbelli), a jealous man and with every right to be. Holding it all together is Allen as Prosdocino, a poet trying to find a subject for his opera. Prosdocino takes in all the comings and goings, make notes in his notebook, and at times even prompts events to happen.

Applause

To add to the confusion Fiorilla already has a lover, Don Narciso (Barry Banks). Fiorilla takes Selim home and is discovered, somewhat apologetically by her husband in bed with her new paramour in another hilarious scene where the bed emerges from the wall with Fiorilla and Selim in an amorous embrace. The prop deserved the round of applause it received and I'm sure some of that was for the Opera House production staff.

Again like Cosi, the plot leads to the main characters donning disguises to trick their respective loves into showing even further infidelity. Don Geronio eventually throws Fiorilla out of their home and it is only then that she realises what she is giving up, well at least the comfort that she would be losing.

Selim tells Geronio that he must be tired of his wife after six years, a conversation I was just having with my newspaper seller only the other day, and offers to buy her from him. All the while Prosdocino is developing the plot into an opera, but even he starts getting confused and attempts to help Geronio win Fiorilla back, if only to find a conclusion to his opera.

Il Turco is a West End farce in the great tradition of Brian Rix or Ray Cooney. Bartoli is well supported by the Einstein-looking Corbelli, the suave D'Arcangelo and Banks, who looks at times as if he has just finished a run in Grease. Adam Fischer's understated orchestration is just about right for an opera where the jokes come thick and fast. But it is Allen, with almost a reprise of his Don Alfonso in Jonathan Miller's Cosi on this same stage last year, who steals the show.

Review by Peter Wilson


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