Opera Scotland

Turco in Italia Il Turco in Italia; The Turk in Italy

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Gioachino Rossini (born Pesaro, 29 February 1792; died Paris, 13 November 1868)

Felice Romani

Libretto (1788) by Caterino Mazzolà set by Joseph Seydelman.

First performance: Milan (Teatro alla Scala), 14 August 1814.
First UK performance: London (His Majesty’s Theatre), 19 May 1821.
First performance in Scotland: Edinburgh (Theatre Royal), 19 December 1827.
Scottish Opera première: N/A.

Il Turco in Italia is nowadays becoming recognised as one of Rossini’s most brilliant and innovative comedies. Its history has been rather confused. It was not a great success at its Milan premiere, but in subsequent years it continued to be widely performed in a variety of inauthentic texts. The plot has been likened almost to Pirandello due to the involvement of a poet who addresses the audience directly. The first modern revival, at Rome in 1950, starred Callas and Stabile. It was revived at La Scala in 1955, and that production (by Franco Zeffirelli) came to Edinburgh in 1957. The first visit to Scotland by the Glyndebourne Tour in 1971 brought John Cox’s production with Richard Van Allan and Norma Burrowes. Since the publication of a critical edition of the text in 1988 it has been performed and recorded more frequently.

Zaida, formerly the slave and fiancee of Selim (mezzo-soprano)
Albazar, formerly Selim’s confidant (tenor)
The Poet (baritone)
Don Geronio, a weak and cowardly gentleman (baritone)
Donna Fiorilla, his capricious but respectable wife (soprano)
Selim, a Turkish prince on his travels (bass)
Don Narciso, a knight in the service of Fiorilla (tenor)

Plot Summary
Two runaway Turkish slaves, Zaida and Albazar, are living with a group of gypsies outside Naples. Zaida misses her former owner Selim, whom she loved. Don Geronio comes to consult a fortune-teller since he needs advice on how to handle his flighty wife Fiorilla. The poet, who is trying to find the subject for a new comedy he has been commissioned to write, looks on. Geronio is not pleased by the forecast. The poet comforts Zaida with the news that a Turkish ship is expected soon. At the harbour, Fiorilla is bored, so takes an interest in the arrival of this ship. On seeing her, Selim adds to his praise of Italy a verse in praise of Italian women. Fiorilla’s existing lover, Narciso, also puts in an appearance. The poet begins to see the germ of an idea developing. The husband and lover both overhear his musings and take umbrage. At home, Fiorilla entertains Selim to coffee, and after interruptions by Geronio and Narciso, makes an assignation for the same evening. Geronio is a complete failure in his attempt to exert some discipline on his wife. The assignation goes adrift when Fiorilla meets Zaida, and they have an argument. Selim offers to buy Fiorilla from Geronio. A masked ball is imminent. The poet stirs the plot further by suggesting to Geronio and Narciso that they disguise themselves as Selim to foil Fiorilla’s attempt to abscond. Zaida disguises herself as Fiorilla, so the outcome at the ball is complete confusion, and Fiorilla is threatened with public disgrace. At this she at last returns to her husband, and Selim settles for Zaida. The poet’s plot is complete.


DECCA (2 CDs) Sung in Italian Recorded 1997

Conductor: Riccardo Chailly
Orchestra of La Scala, Milam
Cecilia Bartoli (Fiorilla), Roberto de Candia (Poet), Michele Pertusi (Selim).

Cecilia Bartoli seems to be the chosen Fiorilla of the present generation, and has sung the part in a number of houses, including Covent Garden. She projects enormous character and her performance is great fun. She has excellent support from Chailly and La Scala forces using the critical edition of the text published in 1988. Their supporting cast includes the great buffo baritone Alessandro Corbelli as Geronio and Ramón Vargas as Narciso.

EMI (2 CDs) Sung in Italian Recorded 1954

Conductor: Gianandrea Gavazzeni
Orchestra of La Scala, Milan
Maria Callas (Fiorilla), Mariano Stabile (Poet), Nicola Rossi-Lemeni (Selim).

Callas sang in the first modern revival, in Rome in 1950, and the sparky character is an ideal role for her comic talents. The recording is distinctly thin sounding by today’s standards, and the text used is heavily cut and significantly different from that of the critical edition used in modern performances. Nevertheless it is worth hunting out, and not just for Callas. The supporting cast is excellent. Rossi-Lemeni was a famous interpreter of the great Verdi bass roles as well as Boris Godunov, so his Selim is surprisingly light of touch. Stabile was at the end of a long career and a superb buffo baritone. The cast also includes young Nicolai Gedda as Narciso and Franco Calabrese as the almost-cuckolded husband. This recording can also be seen as a reminder of the Scala visit to Edinburgh in 1957. The Scala production was by Franco Zeffirelli. However the only performers who repeated their roles in Edinburgh were the conductor and the Geronio.

The Cast

 formerly Selim's confidant
Don Geronio
 a weak and cowardly gentleman
Don Narciso
 a gentleman infatuated with Fiorilla
Donna Fiorilla
 Geronio's wife
 a poet
 a Turkish prince on his travels
 formerly slave and fiancĂ©e of Selim

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