Escape, ladies and gentlemen, from your grey and humdrum lives, and head for the Dolce Vita sunshine of 1950s Italy, where all of the colours are bright, all (well, nearly all) of the people are beautiful and Selim the Turk in Italy provides that essential touch of exoticism. Your guides, with an affectionate nod to Signor Federico Fellini, will be Patrice Caurier and Moshe Leiser, with uplifting musical accompaniment provided by Signor Crescendo himself. A delightful escape is guaranteed for all.

Rachel Kelly (Zaida) and Alessando Corbelli (Don Geronio) © Tristram Kenton | ROH
Rachel Kelly (Zaida) and Alessando Corbelli (Don Geronio)
© Tristram Kenton | ROH

Well, nearly all. If you are unable to accept 19th century gender and racial stereotyping, dislike slapstick, frivolity or are insistent that opera should be fraught with tension, be a high cultural experience or simply feel that the music should be discernibly different from Sr Rossini’s other opere buffe, we might recommend another of our offerings. Everyone else, however, should read on…

Aleksandra Kurzak (Fiorilla) and Alessandro Corbelli (Geronio) © Tristram Kenton | ROH
Aleksandra Kurzak (Fiorilla) and Alessandro Corbelli (Geronio)
© Tristram Kenton | ROH
Aleksandra Kurzak sang a sensational Fiorilla. She starts with the advantage of a voice that is prettily sweet-toned and projects plenty of strength, but what impresses most is how she can shape the decorations: what you hear isn’t a virtuosic shower of notes but a beautifully crafted arabesque – all of it produced while executing a variety of slapstick pratfalls and acting her part with verve (and a generous slice of ham, but that’s kind of what’s called for in this opera). Since I saw her in this same production in 2010, when she was fairly new on the scene, Kurzak has just got better and better.

The bright young singer in this production is Rachel Kelly as Zaida (the downtrodden “other woman” who gets the guy in the end). Kelly isn’t at Kurzak’s level of achievement – not yet, at least – but you can see the elements in place: the timbre is nice, the phrasing is good and the ensemble work with the other singers commendable. And it didn't hurt that she, Kurzak and the hunky Ildebrando D'Arcangelo as Selim all looked stunning, with the help of Agostino Cavalca's vivid costumes.

Aleksandra Kurzak (Fiorilla) © Tristram Kenton | ROH
Aleksandra Kurzak (Fiorilla)
© Tristram Kenton | ROH
The rest of the cast list was at a level where even people who dislike this opera were considering going to it anyway. Alessandro Corbelli’s Geronio was a small, rotund, bundle of laughs as foil to the  lyrically voiced D’Arcangelo. Together with clear-voiced tenor Barry Banks as Narciso and the genial Thomas Allen as Prosdocimo the Poet (a running gag is that we are watching Prosdocimo write the opera as it unfolds in front of us), they delivered a whole series of buffo patter numbers at a joyful gallop.

Acting was excellent throughout. Il turco in Italia is a very, very silly story, and Caurier and Leiser take the simple approach of littering it with visual gags, with the cast putting in enough slapstick gusto to make things fun without hamming it up too outrageously. I’m happy to say that even though I was seeing this for a second time, the gags were just as fun and left me with a big smile. For the benefit of readers who have already seen the show (and trying not to spoil it for those who haven’t), I’ll just remind you of the tourists being fleeced by the band of gypsies, Geronio’s bowl of pasta and the giant pizza and Chianti bottle at the end.

But for me, the true star of the show was conductor Evelino Pidò, who gave us all a lesson in how Rossini should be played: light, airy and upbeat, the orchestra always in perfect balance with the voice, the crescendi always starting quietly enough that a good shape results in just the right volume, the relation of melody and backing being timed to give the illusion of the music constantly accelerating. And in the moments when Rossini lets go of the pace for a moment to give a mock lament, the playing could be genuinely touching.

Thomas Allen (Prosdocimo) © Tristram Kenton | ROH
Thomas Allen (Prosdocimo)
© Tristram Kenton | ROH

I guess there are people who will find the whole opera a bit simplistic. As for me, I was more than happy with a few hours of escapist fun. And I can’t imagine Il turco in Italia being played, sung and acted better than last night.