Rossini churned out so many operas (39 in 19 years) that it’s tempting to think every one is a rehash of previous work, and to some extent the music is rather interchangeable. Il turco in Italia suffers from this perception. It certainly is lightweight, but there is some good music, and it’s a lot of fun.
At least, it is in the new production at ENO. The story a flighty heroine (Fiorilla), two-timing her ageing husband with a young lover and then with the dashing Turk of the title, has been transposed to Cinecitta in 1961 – we’re in the heart of a Fellini film.
The manipulative figure of the poet/author in the original becomes the film Director, splendidly played by Thomas Allen as a cross between Fellini himself and Marcello Mastroianni. His muse has deserted him until the machinations of Fiorilla (the leading lady) Selim, (the Turkish film star imported to add spice) and Zaida (the aspiring actress ‘discovered’ by the Director) provide the dramatic material that he needs to complete his masterpiece.
The whole production is awash with references to Fellini’s masterpiece, 8½, which of course is film about a director making a film… the male chorus (all impersonating Mastroianni) dressed in wigs and togas, carrying whips; the ladies chorus looking splendidly weird as overweight sequinned flappers; the sauna; the circus references as Fiorilla and Zaida don leopard costumes…
The dramatic moments in the plot are (logically) captured on film and relayed on screen at the back of the set: an excellent device which is particularly effective for Fiorilla’s final scene. Having lost her lovers and realising that she better stick with her film-producer husband if she doesn’t want to go back to a life of poverty in Sorrento, she produces a performance worthy of a great screen diva.
Judith Howarth is outstanding as Fiorilla, both in appearance (oh, the frocks!) and voice, and well matched by Donald Maxwell as husband Geronio.
Jeremy White is an excellent Selim and Victoria Simmonds was in marvellous voice as a perky Zaida. This is a starry cast (we don’t have too many opportunities now to see Thomas Allen at ENO) and quite rightly they appear to enjoy every minute of the performance. As long as you don’t take your Rossini too seriously, book now.