Il Turco in Italia has always tended to live in the shadow of the more frequently performed L’Italiana and it is perhaps easy to understand. The plot device of the hopeless dramatist Proscodimo playing puppet-master may pre-figure Pirandello by a century but can easily wear thin.
In this revival of Caurier and Leiser’s production (originally premiered with Bartoli) there is occasionally a feel that the directors do not entirely trust the material and some scenes have become over-larded with (many admittedly very funny) sight gags. One particularly hilarious one involving a split palm tree is too gleefully obscene to be retold on a family website! Caurier and Leiser also indulge one of their more tiresome directorial tics by “dragging up” half the male chorus.
The cast was a strong, if not overtly, starry one and for me the peach was Alessandro Corbelli’s Don Geronio. Artificially fattened up and resembling nothing so much as the illegitimate progeny of Albert Einstein and Groucho Marx he effortlessly stole every scene he appeared in. Added to this his superb diction and verbal dexterity allied to a still formidable voice and it is hard to imagine a better exponent of this repertoire.
The titular Turk was once again taken by Ildebrando D’Arcangelo and he has further developed his portrayal of the magnificent but fatally dumb male. He was in excellent voice (often sounding reminiscent of the young Ramey) and his scenes with Corbelli were particularly treasurable. The tableau at the beginning of the second scene, with Fiorilla and an erupting Vesuvius, when there has clearly been somewhat more than the libretto’s coffee on the menu, was one of many laugh out loud moments.
I was greatly looking forward to Aleksandra Kurzak’s Fiorilla. She has almost everything going for her in this part. From the moment she sashays her divinely pneumatic figure onto the stage it is clear this Fiorilla is far too much of handful for any of the men in her life. However, though most of her vocalism was extremely accomplished, there were worrying moments at the top of the range and I occasionally felt she was forcing. I don’t recall any such difficulties in her recent Mathilde de Shabran so I hope that I was merely witnessing a slight indisposition.
Thomas Allen reprised his delightfully seedy and crumpled Proscodimo. Allen manages to make the unlikely character believable and avoids the elements of tiresomeness. There is a lovely moment in the opera when the characters start to disagree with the way he is telling the story which must surely have been in Sondheim’s mind when he wrote the Narrator part in Into the Woods.
Colin Lee did what he could with the underwritten part of Don Narciso. There are not many men who can carry off a mustard tinted suit encrusted with rhinestones and Mr. Lee is not that man but perhaps that was the point! His Act 2 aria with confident and beautifully voiced high notes was a rare moment of repose.
Maurizio Benini conducted a sprightly version of the overture (despite a rather uncertain horn solo) but there were rather too many moments in the opera when the cohesion between pit and stage drifted. No doubt this will tighten as the run progresses