“Act I, a husband with his friend… First scene, a wife… a Turk… shouts… an intrigue. No, nothing better could have happened!” sings Prosdocimo, the Poet, excited at the scintillating evolution of events occurring around him. He has eventually found an interesting plot for his drama! Prosdocimo is undoubtedly one of the keys to unlocking the levity of Rossini’s masterpiece. He is a very modern character, often even compared to Pirandello’s sensitivity. Prosdocimo is in fact a wandering poet, looking for some inspiration. Not only does he comment on the sentimental chaos developing among Selim, Fiorilla, Geronio, Zaida and Narciso, he also incites them to act, almost conditioning their choices. However, no arias are dedicated to Prosdocimo’s role, he only sings continuous recitative.

Carlo Lepore (Selim) © Ramella & Giannese | Teatro Regio di Torino
Carlo Lepore (Selim)
© Ramella & Giannese | Teatro Regio di Torino

This is probably to show his role of external spectator, of deus ex machina or of an “alter ego” of a librettist, constantly looking for an adequate subject for his work. To this end, throughout the opera, there are plenty of references to the plot, to the geometry of the acts and even to literary suggestions made by Latin poet Horace. This modernity was unfortunately not appreciated at the time of publication of The Turk in Italy, judging by the frosty reception from the audience. However, this may be in part due to the fact that the opera was widely considered to be a sort of ironic capsizing of Rossini’s The Italian Girl in Algiers. In reality, the two operas have very different musical scores: they probably share only the figure of an oriental prince, something not unusual during the second half of 18th century.

Christopher Alden’s mise-en-scène (a co-production with Festival d’Aix-en-Provence, Opéra de Dijion, Teatr Wielki and Polish National Opera) developed the most modern aspects of the libretto. The stage not only showed what the Poet was participating towards, but the other characters also seemed to perform the poet’s conception of his own work. The scenes were converted into a backstage. In the middle of a rehearsal, Fiorilla changed her clothes several times, sang while staring at a script and even paraded around in a blonde wig with spotlights pointed towards her during the splendid “Chi servir non brama amor”. This interpretation emphasised the playful side of the plot, with the endless string of disguises and misinterpretations leading to the final climax of the ballroom scene, where there are three Turks and two Fiorillas.

Paolo Bordogna (Don Geronio), Antonino Siragusa (Don Narciso) and Carlo Lepore (Selim) © Ramella & Giannese | Teatro Regio di Torino
Paolo Bordogna (Don Geronio), Antonino Siragusa (Don Narciso) and Carlo Lepore (Selim)
© Ramella & Giannese | Teatro Regio di Torino

Nevertheless, the production insisted too much on farcical miming in an opera which, although certainly is a dramma buffo, is also endowed with a grace and lightness which possesses nothing of the slapstick comedy. Zaida, in particular, appeared as a neurotic and desperate woman, continuously drinking and popping pills. She is more likely to be the most serious character in the plot (while Geronio and Fiorilla could represent her comic counterparts). Similarly, Geronio was always drinking and taking tablets: he represented a weak, nagging old man with a cabaret-style mimic. This entire pandemonium was slightly incoherent and almost bordered on abstraction: the scenes incorporated a Vespa, costumes belonging to several different epochs, neon lights, tiles everywhere, men in high heels and dressed as women.

Daniele Rustioni conducted well, with precise attention to the tinctures of the articulated score. The Sinfonia was executed with an engaging variation of levity and lively rhythm (with an especially graceful sound in the woodwinds), while the Poet was already on stage, pining for inspiration with his old-fashioned typewriter. The Orchestra and the Chorus of Teatro Regio did well, maintaining a balanced equilibrium with singers on the stage. Carlo Lepore demonstrated a beautiful voice as Selim, solid and secure especially during “Bella Italia, alfin ti miro”. His very capable rendition of “l’aria, il suolo, i fiori e l’onde, tutto ride e parla al cor” included a particular and different touch and tone assigned to each word.

Nino Machaidze (Fiorilla) © Ramella & Giannese | Teatro Regio di Torino
Nino Machaidze (Fiorilla)
© Ramella & Giannese | Teatro Regio di Torino

Georgian soprano Nino Machaidze was a sensual and skittish Donna Fiorilla, with a pleasant burnished timbre. “Non si dà follia maggiore”, “Se il zefiro si posa” and “Squallida veste, e bruna” were a triumph of vocalises, pyrotechnical agility and impressive voice endurance. She demonstrated very good diction even when she “read” “I vostri cenci vi mando”. Paolo Bordogna was a Don Geronio who strived to reach the psychological and realistic shades which Rossini intended for his characters (despite The Italian Girl in Algiers, where Mustfà is, in effect, a one dimensional character). He did not sing with an overwhelmingly impressive technique, but did well in the duet along with Fiorilla (“Per piacere alla signora”) and in “Io sono l’olmo a cui venne rapita”. He also articulated every word in the arduous “Se ho da dirla, avrei molto piacere”, reminding me of the extremely swirling “Sia qualunque delle figlie” from Rossini’s La Cenerentola.

Edgardo Rocha, who replaced Antonino Siragusa, didn't have a particularly expressive voice. However, he sang “Perché mai son tradito” well. Simone Del Savio was a good Prosdocimo, especially in the efficacious trio “Un marito scimunito”. The cast was completed by the pleasing performances of Samantha Korbey and Enrico Iviglia, who interpreted Zaida and Albazar respectively. 

***11