The Turk in Italy

OA The Turk in Italy - photo by Keith SaundersAs you watch this production of The Turk in Italy, you have to wonder why this opera, written when the composer was only 23, is so rarely performed.

Though the music may not be as memorable as some of Rossini’s other operas, it’s certainly attractive, especially when given the sparkling performance it received on this occasion by the Opera Australia Orchestra under Andrea Molino.

And the opera itself, as presented in Simon Phillips delightfully irreverent production, carefully reproduced by revival director, Andy Morton, with a dream cast who not only sing it superbly, but enthusiastically embrace the innate silliness of the plot with stylish performances, proves side-splittingly funny and immensely entertaining.

Phillips has taken the unlikely scenario involving two pairs of lovers, a cuckolded husband a struggling poet in search of inspiration for a farce he’s writing; moved the action to a sunny 1950’s  seaside  town near Naples; has his poet, Prosdocimo (Samuel Dundas) moonlighting as a waiter in a seaside café, owned by his bumbling employer Geronio (Warwick Fyfe), whose beautiful flirtatious wife, Fiorilla (Stacey Alleaume), is intent on having a fling with a handsome randy Turk, Selim (Paolo Bordogna).

Designer Gabriela Tylesova has taken advantage of the possibilities this setting offers to devise an ingenious revolving sunny seaside café, complete with neon sign. She’s costumed the cast in witty period costumes which slyly reference the Italy of  Fellini’s La Strada for Anna Dowsley’s gypsy girl, Zaida, and 50s film star, Gina Lollobrigida for Stacey Alleaume’s flirtatious, Fiorilla.

The chuckles begin with the overture, as the jaunty townsfolk arrive to disport themselves on the beach in riotously clashing-coloured beachwear. Deck-chairs, blow-up beds and barking dogs provide the perfect ambiance for the frisky frolics which follow.

Phillips’ saucy postcard surtitles elicit guffaws, with Fiorilla describing herself as “fickle and a flirt fest”, while Selim, on first seeing her, exclaims “What a honey. What a chick-a-babe”. Among several funny set pieces, an interlude in which Selim and Zaida eject an endless stream of gypsies from a tiny caravan for their tryst, and a fancy-dress ball at which everyone turns up dressed as either Elvis Presley or Marilyn Monroe, while Love Me Tender plays in the background, add to the hilarity.

Samuel Dundas is terrific as the waiter Prosdocimo, artfully dodging knives, cocktail glasses or any other items thrown by the quarrelling lovers, and displaying seriously impressive cocktail waiter skills. Also at his cheeky best as the tumescent Turk, Selim, Paolo Bordogna flirts outrageously with the audience, while wooing the willing Fiorilla, delightfully portrayed by Stacey Alleaume.

Not only does she look gorgeous and sing impressively, Alleaume also holds her own in the comedy department, before stopping the show with her glittering coloratura rendition of Fiorilla’s final aria, A Wretched Damsel Brought Down By Fate.

Fine comedic performances from Warwick Fyfe as Fiorilla’s bumbling husband, Geronio, Anna Dowsley as Selim’s former lover, Zaida, and Virgilio Marino and Graeme Macfarlane as Narciso and Albazar respectively, together with inventive individual contributions from the excellent ensemble, insure that those fortunate enough to experience this delicious soufflé of a production, leave the theatre with a spring in their step and a smile on their face.

The Turk in Italy 
Joan Sutherland Theatre – Sydney Opera House, Bennelong Point
Performance: Friday 10 August 2018 – 7.30pm
Season continues to 1 September 2018
Information and Bookings: www.opera.org.au

Image: The cast of The Turk in Italy in Opera Australia’s 2018 production at the Sydney Opera House – photo by Keith Saunders

Review: Bill Stephens OAM

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