Prodigies? Well, there’s Mozart of course, Mendelssohn challenging Shakespeare, Saint-Saéns with 32 sonatas under his pianistic belt, the infant Yehudi and the brilliant young Dimitri’s first symphony; but then what about the kid from Pesaro not yet had his 5th birthday (Leap Year Baby), already producing his 13th opera and he’s only 21? Ferrara, Milan and Venice had staged numbers one to twelve and here in Milan comes Turco in Italia in 1811, the year Napoleon abdicated, two years before the Barber arrive.
This is a revival five years on of Turco in the Royal Opera House (April 19). The production by Moshe Laiser and Patrise Caurier is lively, imaginative, witty and effective, excellent pit direction by Maurizio Benini.
Rossini called it a dramma buffo. A randy Turk, his old girlfriend, a nifty new Italian pick-up, her ancient husband, a tenor rival and a Poet manipulating the situation as grist for an opera libretto he wants to write. This Poet is a bit of a throw – back to Don Alfonso, a connection with Cosi fan tutte that Rossini and his new librettist Romani allude to. Like Cosi, Turco was a moral feather ruffler, I say!., married woman having it off with an infidel. Tut, tut.
Rossini was a cool cat, more interested in situations than characters but he knew how to cater for his cast and their strengths. The plot bristles farcically, twisting wittily. The music is not Rossini’s finest vintage, there are no melodies to go home with, but the score is tuneful, elegant, merry and professional to a degree, abundant with tricks, sorties, sallies and clichés of the period, formulae which are justified in a winning way. Patter and coloratura (several notes to one vowel) provide pegs for slick singing which it gets nicely here.
Tom (he insists on Sir Thomas) Allen is in brilliant form as the Poet, more Italian than any Italian, up to the mark, down to the wire. But the character who brings down the house is Geronimo, Alessandro Corbelli, a droll to cherish, a baritone to admire. Aleksandra Kurzak, Polish soprano, is his wife, Fiorilla, she has the lioness’ share of the notes with an attractive, athletic voice, stratospheric notes a speciality and she fits the flighty bill. The Turk is glamorous and excellent, Ildebrando d’Arcangelo and no archangel when it comes to speed courting. The outsider Narciso is a tenor to watch, fluent, mellifluous and South African, Colin Lee by name. Zaida who gets the Turk in the end completes the cast successfully, performed by Leah-Marian Jones (she’s Welsh, would you believe it?.)
A happy evening.