Il turco in Italia - Royal Opera House, 8 April
Il turco in Italia, it has to be said, is not Rossini's strongest work musically. There are endless yards of tiddly-pom, and even the arias are not his most melodic or memorable. The reason it's so widely-performed has to lie in the ingenious plot and superb dramatic pacing.
A strong production can paper over the weaknesses, and as they've demonstrated with their Covent Garden La Cenerentola and Il barbiere di Siviglia, Patrice Caurier and Moshe Leiser have a special affinity for Rossini's cruel wit. For Il turco in Italia, here on its second run, the broad-stroked humour is again echoed in the bold colours and sharp lines of the early sixties, where Aleksandra Kursak's gloved and girdled Fiorilla is fomenting her own sexual revolution, regardless of her hapless husband Alessandro Corbelli's protests.
The sight gags come thick and fast, starting with the Turk Selim's yacht being hauled across the back of the stage. In one of the funniest scenes, Corbelli repeatedly slams his face into his spaghetti in despair. There's a ball scene where the 'ladies' are burly men in frocks, and a stuffed cat that crops up everywhere. When Fiorilla's husband Don Geronio finds her in bed with her new lover Selim, some classic slapstick ensues with a shotgun. And an ingeniously-choreographed chair fight livens up the next fight between Don Geronio and Selim.
Holding it all together is a wonderful ensemble performance bolstered by immaculate comic timing. Aleksandra Kursak is a pert and not-quite-wholesome Fiorilla. She copes easily with the florid coloratura, and though she snatches at the highest notes, she always seems to grab them on target. Alessandro Corbelli is the master of rapid patter, and his hangdog expression was cleverly accentuated by makeup. Though it occasionally seemed the music was running a little too fast for Ildebrando D'Arcangelo's liking, his deep dark voice is as surprisingly agile, his presence is arresting and his slimy Turk was a delight. Colin Lee hit just the right note of bewildered superfluity as the discarded lover Don Narciso (even his pip-pip Vespa stopped working).
Leiser and Caurier weren't tempted into a post-modernist take on the sage and manipulative opera-writer Prosdocimo, and so Thomas Allen plays him perfectly straight, a wise and self-interested counsel to all and sundry. Though Allen's voice is not what it was, he still has the resources to sing the role rather than shout it, and his acting is the most subtle of all.
The only disappointment came from the pit. The orchestra played efficiently, and Mark Packwood's sparing continuo was particularly effective. Yet Maurizio Benini located only beats where there should have been rhythm and did little to suggest the ebb and flow of the drama. What a contrast to Pappano's vivid and flexible Barbiere. But it was hardly enough to ruin the evening. After a run of Covent Garden duds, it's a welcome return to form. A shame to see a number of empty seats, though.