What distinguishes Rossini's Il turco in Italia from a hundred other opere buffe is the figure of Prosdocimo, the poet who is creating the opera as we go along. In Mark Lamos' production for Bergen National Opera, Giorgio Caoduro's Prosdocimo is young, brash, exuberant, overflowing with enthusiasm, the puppet master who is pulling all the strings – literally, because Lamos has created puppet replicas of Fiorilla, Geronio and Selim who battle out their stormy love triangle in a puppet theatre in parallel with us seeing them in real life.

Molinari (Zaida), Spagnoli (Geronio), Schwartz (Fiorilla), Loconsolo (Selim) © Magnus Skrede
Molinari (Zaida), Spagnoli (Geronio), Schwartz (Fiorilla), Loconsolo (Selim)
© Magnus Skrede

From the off, Lamos and designer George Souglides go for visual impact, with the prime components being costumes and movement rather than the sparse sets. The chorus are Pulcinella clones in primary colours or Turks in black robes with tall shakoes or huge Suleiman the Magnificent-style turbans: they tumble, they juggle, they twirl. Fiorilla’s red gown is a model of haute couture elegance, while Don Geronio’s ruffled pink outfit is – well, striking. In the Act II masked ball, Souglides and his team of costume makers turn the bling up to eleven: the chorus wear exquisite white satin shot through with silver thread and gems; Fiorilla and Zaida are in miraculously wide scarlet ballgowns; Selim and Narciso in frock coats to match. The ruffled clouds of white satin spin in complex patterns on a revolving stage, their glitter is reflected from ceiling-high counter-rotating mirrors: the effect is breathtaking.

From left: Pietro Spagnoli, Sylvia Schwartz, Guido Loconsolo, Cecilia Molinari, Giorgio Caoduro © Magnus Skrede
From left: Pietro Spagnoli, Sylvia Schwartz, Guido Loconsolo, Cecilia Molinari, Giorgio Caoduro
© Magnus Skrede

Overall, the staging is very much abstract: we never see Selim’s ship, Fiorilla’s bedroom or the inn where everyone meets. But it works: we’re not in any doubt as to how the (tangled) storyline is progressing. And given Rossini’s famously gluttonous nature, any staging of his operas which includes a pair of metre-tall cupcakes and an even bigger fruit bavarois gets my vote.

Pietro Adaini (Narciso) © Magnus Skrede
Pietro Adaini (Narciso)
© Magnus Skrede
Vocally, it’s the men who shine, none more so than Pietro Adaini (Narciso), whose Rossinian phrasing flows effortlessly, shaping a voice whose timbre is exceptionally rounded for the lightness and flexibility of a Rossinian tenor. At the bottom of the pitch range is the role of Selim, whose first requirement is to come on stage and blow the roof off with a giant “Bella Italia” – and that’s exactly what Guido Loconsolo did, before proving himself to have a pleasantly warm and tightly focused bass. The joy of this opera, however, is in its buffo patter numbers, and it was a delight to hear the first act trio “Un marito scimunito, una sposa capricciosa” (to get an idea of the fun, try reading that aloud at speed) sung by Italian singers who can negotiate the language at high power and top speed, leaving plenty of headspace to focus on the subtleties of phrasing and comedy. Pietro Spagnoli (Don Geronio), showed himself to be a master of the genre and combined quite wonderfully with Caoduro and Adaini. Even the minor role of Albazar was strongly cast: young tenor Alvaro Zambrano displayed a pleasant voice and buckets of verve and personality in his (all too often cut) aria di sorbetto “Ah, sarebbe troppo dolce” – we’ll be seeing more of this young man.
Guido Loconsolo (Selim), Giorgio Caoduro (Prosdocimo), Pietro Spagnoli (Geronio) © Magnus Skrede
Guido Loconsolo (Selim), Giorgio Caoduro (Prosdocimo), Pietro Spagnoli (Geronio)
© Magnus Skrede

The female roles were sung well but didn’t hit the same heights. Sylvia Schwartz threw herself into the role of Fiorilla and acted well, impossibly flirtatious without being actually tarty, and genuinely touching in the scene of her final repentance; her voice was lovely at the low end but lost its warmth and acquired a harsh edge when notes were hit high or hard. Cecilia Molinari provided a good foil but little more – then again, the role of Zaida doesn’t give a great deal of opportunity for the mezzo to shine.

The Grieghallen wouldn’t be your first choice of hall for Rossini – it’s a hall that will take a Mahler or Shostakovich symphony without complaint, so it’s a touch unforgiving for a smaller orchestra playing lighter music from inside an orchestra pit. However, Domingo Hindoyan kept everything light and airy, and a number of instrumental uncertainties at the start were forgotten as the players warmed up and improved through the course of the evening.

Guido Loconsolo (Selim), Sylvia Schwartz (Fiorilla) © Magnus Skrede
Guido Loconsolo (Selim), Sylvia Schwartz (Fiorilla)
© Magnus Skrede

Il turco in Italia is never going to appear in anyone’s list of the most thought-provoking operas. So what you hope for is some great singing, great fun and plenty of romantic froth and visual spectacle, and this production ticks all of those boxes as well as providing a masterclass in costumery. It was the opera’s Norwegian première, held in a city where the opera company is just ten years old and the audience hasn’t seen much outside top ten repertoire: on the evidence of last night, we'll be seeing plenty more Rossini here.

 

Update: Sylvia Schwartz has withdrawn from the performance on March 27th due to illness. She will be replaced by Nino Machaidze for this performance.