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The extra layer?


Covent Garden's 'Il Turco in Italia'


Having provided the Royal Opera with a successful production of Rossini's comic opera La Cenerentola it was perhaps inevitable Covent Garden would return to French duo Patrice Caurier and Moshe Leiser to direct the new production of Il Turco in Italia, written by Rossini three years before La Cenerentola. Add to this a cast led by Cecilia Bartoli and Alessandro Corbelli and you have a package which incites immense interest.

This interest is useful as Il Turco in Italia has suffered rather because its plot has been seen as a re-run of L'Italiana in Algeri, written the year before. Both involve exotic, foreign men getting involved with feisty Italian women and ending up realising that love is better close to home.

But Il Turco in Italia has an added extra layer which causes interest, the presence of the poet Prosdocimo. He is writing a new opera libretto and using the people in the opera as a subject matter, librettist Felice Romani sets up a curious dialogue between Prodoscimo and the other characters in Il Turco in Italia so that they seem to become aware that they are characters in an opera. This could lead into the territory covered by Pirandello in his play, 6 Characters in Search of an Author, and there is potential for a serio-comic production of the opera which could explore this. Unfortunately, Caurier and Leiser have not taken this route, choosing instead to present the opera as an almost slapstick comedy.

This is the second production of this opera in London in recent years; it was performed not so long ago at the Coliseum with Judith Howarth as Fiorilla. For some curious reason, both productions choose to set the opera in the 20th century Italy film world. At the Coliseum, David Fielding re-wrote the plot and set the opera in Cinecitta, with Prosdocimo as a film director and Fiorilla as his diva. At the Royal Opera, Caurier and Leiser turned to the films of Fellini as inspiration and set the opera within this world. The production was first performed at the Royal Opera House on 28 May 2005 and I saw it on Friday 3 June.

Cecilia Bartoli as Fiorilla and Alessandro Corbelli as Don Geronio. Photo © Catherine Ashmore
Cecilia Bartoli as Fiorilla and Alessandro Corbelli as Don Geronio. Photo © Catherine Ashmore

To their credit, they take the plot of the opera at face value and do not try to turn it into something else. But by simply having Prosdocimo as a film director-like observer, they fail to explore the Pirandello-like elements of the plot. This leaves us with Rossini's plot, played pretty straight. Unfortunately, Rossini was not writing a straight comic opera, he was writing an opera about opera. For much of the evening the characters are, intentionally, archetypes rather than real people; the only real person is Prosdocimo. This means that we don't really care about the fate of Fiorilla and her husband Geronio. Only at the end, in her final scene, does Fiorilla receive from Rossini music of real power and by now it is too late for us to care.

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Copyright © 7 June 2005 Robert Hugill, London UK


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