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Opera Review (LA): The Turk in Italy by Rossini and Romani

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LA Opera is presenting The Turk in Italy, a rarely produced opera and one I had never heard of. But The Turk in Italy is by Rossini and I am a great fan of his opera. The libretto is one of the earliest by Felice Romani, who later became one of the most important Italian librettists of the early 19th century.

The opera opened at La Scala on August 14, 1814, and was not considered a hit. Perhaps this is because Romani had drawn extensively from an earlier Turco libretto by Caterino Mazzola. Romani may have capitalized on the earlier libretto, especially in the first act, but in the second act he introduced an element that alters the nature of the drama.

Mazzola had concentrated on the lovers Zaida and Selim (the Turk) and introduced a suicide pact that almost turned the drama buffo into a tragedy. Rossini and Romani introduced a masked ball where identities and confusion abound. While both operas are considered to belong to the opera buffo tradition, the earlier opera is a zany comedy while Turco is a comedy of manners and a sophisticated meditation on love, art, and Identity.

The production, which came to us via the Hamburg State Opera, is truly delightful. It. The original production was by Christof Loy but the director here is Alex Wedauer. The colorful costumes and very simple set (a budgetary consideration I am sure) are by Herbert Maurauer. Maestro James Conlon does his usual fine job of keeping things moving.

The story, as in most Rossini operas, is convoluted and thus difficult to sum up. There are scenes of betrayal, confused identities, and a rather awkward inclusion of a poet, Prosdocimo, who is using the events of the story to make his new opera (a strange breaking of the fourth wall and a forerunner of Pirandello). In the capable hands of veteran Thomas Allen, the role is a delight.

Zaida (Kate Lindsey) and the Turk (Simone Alberghini) make up one couple, with Matthew O’Neill as Don Narcisco, a would-be suitor. The main characters, however, are a married couple, Don Geronio (Paolo Gavenilla, considered the leading Verdi baritone of our time), and Donna Fiorilla, brilliantly sung by Nino Machaidze; her arias were truly the highlights of the evening. The suitor Don Narisco, a very foolish character, is sung by Maxim Mironov, considered one of the most interesting Rossini tenors.

I have also been a fan of Rossini’s more famous Italian Girl in Algiers, with its magnificent overture. While maybe not as compelling as that opera, The Turk in Italy is nonetheless very funny, has some splendid music, and, in the case of this production, features a star-studded cast and excellent direction. The Turk in Italy plays at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion through March 13.

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