The Turk in Italy: an Opera review by Victor Grynberg

August 13, 2018 by Victor Grynberg
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2 parts Rossini + 1 part Phillips = a sparkling cocktail.

The Opera Australia Chorus in Opera Australia’s 2018 production of The Turk in Italy at the Sydney Opera House
Photo credit: Keith Saunders

About a quarter of a century ago Opera Australia started using theatre directors rather than those just experienced in the Operatic tradition to take charge of their new productions.

The value of this once more was proven in this revival of the 2014 production by theatre giant Simon Phillips. A multi-award winning director of plays, musicals and operas Phillips has rewritten this comic tale of broken hearts, mistaken identities and all will be well in the end to make a production that had the audience laughing all night, while enjoying of course the delightful music of Rossini. The action moves from 1814 to a beachside bar/café, somewhere near Naples in the mid 1950s.

Victor Grynberg

For Phillips an overture is a lot more than music and he sets the mood beautifully with a parade of beachgoing belles in their 50s swimmers, followed by the guys in their just as humorous outfits. Their struggles to set up the  beach chairs was beautifully choreographed and at the same time made audience members reminisce about their own struggles with these at times confounding pieces of wood and canvas. Great creativity by Gabriela Tylesova, who is also responsible for the wonderful set, replete with those chrome and red vinyl stools those old enough remember so well.

Once the singing begins we see the next great element of Phillips’ reinterpretation . No attempt to translate the words, rather the surtitles feature laugh a minute colloquial language that while representing the words, is done in such a humorous ,if at times almost vulgar way it becomes imperative to watch every surtitle.

Let’s hope he’s given a task like this  again soon .

Revival Director Andy Morton was responsible for re-casting this production. In a record-breaking season for OA, where great dramatic operas  (Aida, Madama Butterfly,Rigoletto, La Boheme , Don Quichotte and more ) have set new standards of production and singing, it was always going to be a challenge to maintain that standard in an Opera Buffo. I’m getting the feeling that Morton and Artistic Director Lyndon Terracini put extra effort into finding singers that meet the triple standards that modern audiences now demand.

Of course they must sing beautifully. Then they must look the part, physically and in costume. Finally they must be able to ham up their roles to the comedy that Phillips wants to give us.

Graeme Macfarlane as Albazar, Anna Dowsley as Zaida and Samuel Dundas as Prosdocimo in Opera Australia’s 2018 production of The Turk in Italy at the Sydney Opera House
Photo credit: Keith Saunders

It all starts with Stacey Alleaume, (Fiorilla) the beautiful brunette married to a much older  bar owner Don Geronio (the always excellent Warwick Fyfe, padded stomach et al).  In  those circumstances it’s no wonder she attracts the attention of the handsome Turk, Selim, Paolo Bordogna .  Italian Bordogna is clearly the go-to man for OA in these type of roles as previously he has been Figaro  in “The Marriage of Figaro” and “The Barber of Seville”. Alleaume and Bordogna have the most important arias and duets to perform and both sang with conviction in their notes and sweetness in their melody.

The strong support cast included another local favourite Anna Dowsley, (Zaida) the former girlfriend of Selim . Both with her perfect pitch voice and cute costuming Dowsley plays her role beautifully.

I enjoyed very much Virgilio Marino , who earlier this year showed his talent in “The Nose” and “Madama Butterfly as Narciso.

Holding the action together is the character Prosdocimo, a would be poet trying to write a play. Samuel Dundas, though still young is an OA veteran and showed both his vocal command and marvellous stage presence . In this role at times he  reminded me of John Cleese in Fawlty Towers. Take that as a big compliment.

Sometimes it’s the things you don’t seem to see that help make a great production. Only when I read my notes after did I think about lighting. It’s always there, but actually did it help the production? The answer ? a bi g yes. Full compliments to Lighting Designer Nick Schlieper.

Making a welcome return to OA was Italian Conductor Andrea Molino who enthusiastically led the orchestra to accompany wonderfully the singers in a score by Rossini that may not be quite as famous as “The Barber” but is every bit quite as beautiful and melodic.

I’m not sure what sort of performance the packed house anticipated seeing. Their enthusiastic response right through the night reflected this critic’s enjoyment of a wonderful night at the opera.

The heroine doesn’t die. There’s no treachery or backstabbing. How nice for a change!

An enthusiastic 5 Stars

JOAN SUTHERLAND THEATRE

SYDNEY OPERA HOUSE

Friday 10th August

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