Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Musical comedy: Rossini's Il turco in Italia returns to Garsington

Rossini: Il turco in Italia - Garsington Opera 2017 - Sarah Tynan (Fiorilla) in chorus (Photo Alice Pennefather)
Rossini: Il turco in Italia - Garsington Opera 2017 - Sarah Tynan (Fiorilla) in chorus (Photo Alice Pennefather)
Rossini Il turco in Italia; Quirijn de Lang, Sarah Tynan, Mark Stone, Katie Bray, Geoffrey Dolton, dir: Martin Duncan, cond: David Parry
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jun 26 2017
Star rating: 4.0

An entertaining outing for one of Rossini's most complex comedies

Martin Duncan's production of Rossini's Il turco in Italia debuted in 2011, only the second production to be performed in Garsington Opera's then new home at Wormsley. Revived for the first time on 25 June 2017, David Parry was again conducting with Quirijn de Lang as Selim, Geoffrey Dolton as Don Geronio and Mark Stone as Prosdocimo returning to their roles, plus Sarah Tynan as Fiorilla, Katie Bray as Zaide, Luciano Botelho as Narciso and Jack Swanson as Albazar. Designs were by Francis O'Connor, with lighting by Mark Jonathan and movement by Nick Winston.

The production is set in a Naples of the 1950s. But this is a witty picture-postcard Naples, with clean-cut healthy gypsies, and sunny temperaments all round; Francis O'Connor's giant postcard forming a backdrop from which Fiorilla (Sarah Tynan) and Geronio's (Geoffrey Dolton) house appears, and the prow of Selim's (Quirijn de Lang) yacht dramatically pierces through. Prosdocimo's (Mark Stone) balcony overlooking the bay is always in view, and we see Prosdocimo at work constantly throughout the opera.

Duncan's production was very much a combination of music and movement, not for nothing was Nick Winston movement director and assistant director. Each solo and ensemble was carefully and wittily choreographed, in a way which charmed and delighted yet emphasised the artificiality of Rossini's drama. Yet Duncan and Winston never pulled focus, and the show was a brilliantly entertaining piece of musical theatre which ensured that we always concentrated on the right people on stage. The large set pieces mirroring Rossini's big ensembles were a particular delight.

As yet the production seems slightly under-cooked, as if there has not been quite enough rehearsal time on the Garsington stage. I was aware of small ensemble problems, and the fact that complex vocal ensembles are accompanied by complex movements does make the production a particular challenge. For the first time since coming to Garsington Opera's new home, I was aware of the sheer width of the stage, perhaps because Francis O'Connor's set, with its large postcard back drop set at an angle, was rather acoustically unhelpful, projecting sound at an angle.

In many ways Il turco in Italia is one of the most human of Rossini's comedies, and the character's less cardboard cut-out than some. But Duncan's production seemed to be encouraging us to enjoy the piece as a mechanism, and it did not always bring out the humanity of the characters. Perhaps, once the production has bedded in this will happen more, but you felt that the cast were concentrating more on performing a show for us rather than interacting as characters. There were, however, strong individual performers and those returning to the production (Quirijn de Lang, Mark Stone and Geoffrey Dolton) were most successful at making us care for their characters.

Mark Stone, on stage for most of the time and often acting as puppet master, really made the show. His is not always a natural Rossini voice, but he brought a frankness, openness and vivid sense of character to Prosdocimo which made you care for him, and made his need to find a plot and write his play really matter.

Quirijn de Lang in the title role as Pasha Selim really looked the part, even managing to look suave, elegant and sexy in a series of embarrassing be-jewelled mini-turbans. De Lang moved with suaveness and elegance, and really encapsulated the sort of untrustworthy lounge-lizard familiar from films (though to characterise a Turk like this seemed, perhaps, borderline racist). But this is a Rossini buffo bass part (the original singer also created Mustafa in L'Italiana in Algeri), and whilst I can understand the wish to try to re-invent the character somewhat, I would have liked a little more vocal swagger from De Lang. He sang Rossini's vocal lines efficiently though his passagework was a trifle smudgy, I would have liked more vocal bravura.

Sarah Tynan brought real vocal fireworks to the role of Fiorilla and her account of Fiorilla's final aria, when she thinks she is being divorced by Geronio, managed to combine bravura singing with the right degree of pathos. Selfish and uncaring of the men around her, Fiorilla is not the most sympathetic of characters, and for most of the opera we could admire the beauty of Tynan's singing and the incredibly stylish figure she cut on stage without really caring for Fiorilla. But perhaps this is churlish given the complexity and elegance of Tynan's singing.

Katie Bray, as Selim's former lover Zaide, had perhaps an easier job to make her character sympathetic as the wronged innocent, but Bray really made Zaide count. She combined a vivacity with warmth of tone, and created a real sense of character. Geoffrey Dolton had the gift of being able to be terrifically funny, whilst still making us care for poor put-upon Geronio, constantly being imposed upon by his wife. Luciano Botelho bravely essayed the challenging role of Narciso with its high-wire acrobatics (it was written for Giovanni David who created Rodrigo in Otello and whose range went, easily, up to high F). Botelho has an attractive lyric tenor voice with a delightful stage presence, but when singing in alt his voice had a tight, edgy quality. Some of this may indeed be first night nerves, but you felt that a more acoustically helpful set might have added a little warmth. Jack Swanson made a very personable Albazar and you wished that he had more to do.

In the pit, David Parry drew some not unstylish playing from the orchestra, though we were also aware of the challenge of keeping some of the ensembles on track.

This was an enjoyable evening in the theatre, with some brilliant theatrical moments and engaging singing. Most of the audience will have gone home happily entertained, but I felt that the production had the capability of being something much more.

This review also appear in OperaToday.com

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