The Turk in Italy

Rain aside, it was the usual Long Beach Opera premiere: A great and unfamiliar opera rescued from undeserved obscurity and treated with a mix of respect and wacko revisionism before a loving, if not quite capacity, crowd.

With:
Cast: Maria Fortuna, Suzan Hanson, Craig Estep, Leroy Villanueva, Dean Ely, Spiro Malas, Michael Horton.

Rain aside, it was the usual Long Beach Opera premiere: A great and unfamiliar opera rescued from undeserved obscurity and treated with a mix of respect and wacko revisionism before a loving, if not quite capacity, crowd.

Rossini’s “The Turk in Italy,” dating from 1814, is one of the string of stupendously antic, ravishing comic operas created by the composer while still in his 20s.

It stands midway between the more popular (but no finer) “Italian Girl in Algiers” and “The Barber of Seville.”

It was revived and recorded in the 1950s by Maria Callas, but in a drastically cut and re-edited version.

The Long Beach production, led with splendid verve by Houston Grand Opera resident conductor Ward Holmquist and staged by Long Beach’s gadfly Christopher Alden, uses the new authoritative edition by Italy’s Rossini Foundation.

Playing off on familiar farce elements — elderly husband, flirtatious wife, amorous Near Eastern potentate –“The Turk” adds one unusual element, the character of a poet who, in a manner oddly prophetic of Pirandello’s “Six Characters in Search of an Author,” manipulates the actions from outside the plot.

There are few static arias; the action moves forward through a constant flow of ensemble writing, each moment more beautiful than the last, with the give and take between warriors on the battlefield of lovemaking, the cynical comments from the sidelines.

To the surprise of nobody familiar with his work, Alden’s stage biz takes off from the original scenario and heads toward the stratosphere.

He has clothed his cast, not in the trappings of 18th-century Italians and Turks, but in modern, drab street clothes.

Carol Bailey’s set resembles an abandoned movie theater, with some of the cast seated on the sidelines and chomping popcorn when not actually singing: It’s a theater-within-a-theater for an opera-within-an-opera.

Some Aldenesque touches — such as a strobe light to add unneeded zing to the act one finale — are merely painful.

Others work; it may not look like Rossini, but the stage contrivance comes close to matching the exhilarating inventiveness of the score itself.

The cast has its stars: Maria Fortuna, sensational as the flirtatious Fiorilla; veteran Spiro Malas (“The Most Happy Fella”) as her suffering spouse; Leroy Villanueva as the wise, sardonic Poet.

Better than the individual voices, however, is the way they have been made to work together, in tune with the music and with each other.

The Turk in Italy

(Center Theater, Long Beach; 800 seats; $ 60 top)

Production: The Long Beach Opera presents Gioacchino Rossini's two-act opera, libretto by Felice Romani, English translation by Andrew Porter. Directed by Christopher Alden; conductor, Ward Holmquist; production design, Carol Bailey; lighting design, Adam Silverman. Reviewed March 5, 1995; runs through March 8. Running time: 2 hours, 55 min.

Cast: Cast: Maria Fortuna, Suzan Hanson, Craig Estep, Leroy Villanueva, Dean Ely, Spiro Malas, Michael Horton.

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