That opera rarity “The Turk in Italy,” first performed in 1814, doesn’t have the musical invention of the masterful “Barber of Seville” that Rossini unveiled two years later, but it’s worth a visit at least once every other decade. Maria Callas revived it in 1950 to much success. And with as inventive a production as this one, featuring such winning performers, L.A. Opera makes a solid case for keeping this “Turk” afloat in any company’s repertory.
Fiorilla (Nino Machaidze) might just be the most obvious, brazen and liberated slut-wife in all of Italian opera. Having openly cuckolded her husband Don Geronio (Paolo Gavanelli) with the help of the local tenor Narciso (Maxim Mironov), she then moves on to the new prince in town, Selim (Simone Alberghini), who has an admirer in harem refugee Zaida (Kate Lindsey, a young mezzo to watch). It’s obvious that Rossini and libretti Felice Romani were already tired of these musical-bed cliches and all the stupid disguises that they would invariably provoke in act two. Maybe that’s why they upped the trollop ante over Mozart and the Bard and framed their story with a poet (Thomas Allen), who gooses things along (and ends up getting clobbered repeatedly and hilariously). How delicious that, in this comedy of mistaken identities, so many characters make the mistake of wearing the same disguise.
The L.A. Opera production originated at the Hamburg Opera, where it was directed by Christof Loy. Now in the capable hands of helmer Axel Weidauer, this “Turk” answers a pressing opera question: How do you stage a masked ball when Rossini has given you one of his all-male choruses? Suffice to say, Herbert Murauer’s elegant black costumes never get in the way of any man having a good time on stage.
None of this would work without singers who can act. And these singers sound pretty good, too, especially the great Verdi baritone Gavanelli, who can patter with the best of them. His plush baritone makes an ideal match for Machaidze’s hard soprano, which has more glare than ring. There aren’t many colors in this voice, but her moments of introspection, especially with Gavanelli, are touching.
One of Murauer’s wicked touches is to costume Narciso as a greaser stud: No sooner does he zip up his fly than he opens his mouth to reveal this fey 19th-century tenor. Never has our changing perception of romantic ideals been more exposed.
Murauer’s box set features a dappled paint job and industrial-iron sliding doors that open to all kinds of intriguing rooms and vistas. But why a bunch of gypsies would want to kickoff their tailgate picnic inside a garage is anyone’s guess. Also, the supernumeraries in the background can’t handle the slow-mo business given them.
Under James Conlon’s usually capable baton, the orchestra never quite unleashes the pent-up frenzy of a great Rossini performance.