Il turco in Italia (Royal Opera House)

Rossini’s romantic farce boasts an experienced cast for its third run at Covent Garden

Ildebrando D'Arcangelo as Selim in Il turco in Italia (ROH)
Ildebrando D'Arcangelo as Selim in Il turco in Italia (ROH)
© Tristram Kenton
There’s no questioning the pedigree for this second revival of Rossini’s 'dramma buffo' in The Royal Opera‘s warm, colourful production. Four of the principals sang at the opening performances of Il turco in Italia ten years ago while a fifth, Aleksandra Kurzak, returns from the 2010 incarnation. And, as Ildebrando D’Arcangelo told WhatsOnStage last week, original directors Moshe Leiser and Patrice Caurier have been on hand for a good slab of rehearsals.

Yet as a show it’s not quite there. There’s a sense that Rossini’s sunshine is hitting the stage through a slightly grubby window pane, and I’ve been pondering why that might be.

Il turco is what the Italians do best, and have done from the days of commedia dell’arte right through to the mid-20th century where Leiser and Caurier relocate the piece: it’s a sex comedy. The parallels with Vittorio de Sica’s Loren-Mastroianni movies of the early 1960s make a neat foundation for some pleasant farce, but this revival feels rickety.

The opera is beautifully conducted, so it’s not that. Evelino Pidò is a kingpin at this repertoire and he draws sweetly idiomatic phrasing from an ROH Orchestra that sounds delighted to be playing Rossini’s effervescent score. The Royal Opera Chorus members do a fine job too, both the women as kleptomaniac 'zingare' and the men who get to dance chic to chic in blue sequin ball gowns.

Kurzak is beyond reproach as the coquettish Fiorilla, a character my elders would have described as a flighty piece. The Polish soprano perches at the top of today’s Italianate heap, blest as she is with a charismatic and expressive beauty that’s paired with a resplendent vocal presence. Her rival in love this time round is the radiant young mezzo Rachel Kelly, who's a feisty Zaida, so that’s the distaff side in good hands.

It’s the suspicion of lassitude elsewhere that’s the issue, and diminished returns as (slightly) ageing singers revisit a former triumph.

'Turkish delight'

As Don Geronio, Fiorilla’s cuckolded old husband, Alessandro Corbelli (who's been the world's 'primo basso comico' since forever) is in fine buffo form during the visual set pieces but between times seems disengaged. Even his famed delivery of Rossini’s patter feels perfunctory.

Only a prodigious technique conceals the extent to which Thomas Allen‘s vocal powers have begun to wane, while the excellent Barry Banks as Don Narciso sounds uncharacteristically bloodless here when singing above the stave, for all his security. And this time for some reason he's encumbered by an unbecoming beard.

Designer Christian Fenouillat‘s stage flats have grown whiskers, too, during their decade in storage. The paint is bleached and the materials almost as battered as Geronio’s poor cat. On opening night it didn’t help that Christophe Forey‘s lighting was less than ideal, with a dead patch down stage right, but I imagine that will be corrected for the rest of the run.

Which leaves the title character, Selim, who rolls in on his yacht and can seduce the world with a sideways glance. He is played with Turkish delight and fabulous intonation by Ildebrando D’Arcangelo, a singer whose rugged looks and silken bass easily explain his (Selim’s, that is) success with the ladies. D'Arcangelo's scenes with Kurzak are awash with chemistry and star quality: when they hold the stage together, however ridiculous the situation, you believe them. Ten years on the fire still smoulders.