Il turco in Italia, created for La Scala in 1814, is a sophisticated, philosophical elaboration on love relationships, examined with intellectual detachment and a deep cynicism reminiscent of Così fan tutte, which had been presented in Milan in 1807, with good success. Rossini’s work is however pervaded of a deep melancholy, an understanding of human weakness which alternates with over-the top, farcical funny moments. Love is depicted as springing from imagination, a fantasy, and marriage is both absurd and necessary; the resulting moral is even more cynical and dark than in the Mozartian masterpiece.

Rosa Feola (Fiorilla)
© Marco Brescia & Rudy Amisano | Teatro alla Scala

The “Don Alfonso” character is, in Rossini’s work, the poet Prosdocimo, trying to find a subject for his new play. He both takes inspiration from the events around him and helps them to unfold, like a puppeteer: Rossini and librettist Felice Romani’s alter ego. He describes the intrigues he sees/creates, illustrating the very theatrical numbers that we see on the stage. This is very well described in Roberto Andò’s production: Prosdocimo has a very prominent role, often singled out by a spotlight. The other characters enter and exit the stage always from trapdoors, sliding on moving couches or chairs, almost like ideas popping up from nowhere, theatrical personas summoned by the poet’s imagination. The young baritone Mattia Olivieri was very convincing as the poet Prosdocimo, his projection truly remarkable and his voice well supported and smooth.

Rosa Feola (Fiorilla) and Alex Esposito (Selim)
© Marco Brescia & Rudy Amisano | Teatro alla Scala

The sets and costumes (Gianni Carluccio and Nanà Cecchi) were traditional without being overly corny: the sea was represented by very beautiful blue rolls spinning on the back drop; stylised forms came down from the top, to represent the town of Naples or Fiorilla and Geronio’s house.

Diego Fasolis is one of the most important conductors for the Baroque and Classical periods; his relationship with Rossini has proven to be solid and flourishing. The La Scala orchestra gave a magnificent interpretation of the overture; Fasolis highlighted micro-sections, used original dynamics, and the horns and trumpets (which have a very treacherous part) shone with ease and perfection. During the performance, at times the pit was overpowering the stage, but overall the orchestra was one of the best performers of evening.

The plot revolves around a young woman, Fiorilla, “capricious, but honest”, as described in the libretto, who is married to an older man, Don Geronio. Fiorilla is sexy, unprincipled, determined to collect as many lovers as she can. Rosa Feola was very suited to this part; she displayed a confident command of coloratura and a beautiful, silvery soprano with great projection. When a Turkish prince – Selim – arrives in Naples, as a tourist, she starts flirting with him and all sorts of gags ensue. Alex Esposito confirmed his status of perhaps the best Rossini bass today with an irresistible performance as Selim. His breath control and coloratura were spotless, his style impeccable, the colour of the voice warmer than ever. He is a stage animal, and the director took full advantage of his theatrical abilities. He was prancing, jumping around, filling up the stage, a confident, arrogant Selim. The duets with Feola were delightful, the two of them flirting like crazy, their voices perfectly intertwined like their desire.

Rosa Feola (Fiorilla), Giulio Mastrototaro (Don Geronio) and Alex Esposito (Selim)
© Marco Brescia & Rudy Amisano | Teatro alla Scala

Fiorilla has a gallant, Don Narciso, an old-fashioned role, the cavalier servente of the 18th century. In this production, Andò emphasised the dated nature of this character, and Edgardo Rocha was superb in his interpretation, based on stereotypical gestures, exaggerated sighs, constant waving of an enormous white handkerchief and swaying his flowing hair. He displayed very good coloratura and Rossini style, but his voice sounded a bit cloudier than I remembered, and he avoided all super-high notes, which are usually among his best assets. Perhaps he wasn’t in his best form, but overall his performance was funny and engaging.

Don Geronio, Fiorilla’s husband, was Giulio Mastrototaro, with a pleasant, strong baritone. Geronio is completely dominated by his young wife, and desperately tries to win her back and save his marriage. His character is modelled on the stereotypical “cuckolded husband”, but Rossini gives him a much deeper dimension. There is a true understanding of his human weakness, and respect for his honest attempt to save his marriage.

Giulio Mastrototaro (Don Geronio)
© Marco Brescia & Rudy Amisano | Teatro alla Scala

In the finale, Geronio, tired of her nonsense, casts Fiorilla out of their house, and she realises that she is losing everything. In a deeply moving aria, she regrets her fickleness and hopes for forgiveness. Feola’s interpretation was moving and deeply heartfelt. The happy ending of the opera sees the reconciliation of the married couple and of Selim with his old lover Zaida. But, in Andò’s production, when Prosdocimo gives all the characters the script for the finale, they ball up the score and throw it at him, while the couples switch, Selim kissing Fiorilla and Geronio hugging Zaida. A true tribute to Così.