Il turco in Italia – Rossini Opera Festival

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My first ROF! I have been dreaming for several years now to attend the Rossini Opera Festival, and, finally, this year I am in Pesaro. The atmosphere is wonderful, very different from my usual European soiree. The Teatro Rossini is small, very beautiful, with an intimate and old-times feel to it. There are no supertitles! It was wonderful, finally, to watch an opera without the distraction of the supertitles. and enjoy the (very good) diction of the singers, to follow the plot from their words. The Rossini Opera Festival attracts aficionados from the whole world (in my box there were two Germans, two French, and me), but the management is still a bit parochial: it is impossible to buy tickets on the Internet, you must order by phone, and then you go pick them up at the box office, where a kind lady skims through a bunch of envelopes until she finds the one with your name. Very picturesque. I had ordered an orchestra seat, but I got the very bottom of a box, perched on a stand. But the box was in the center, so I could see very well, and the stand was not completely uncomfortable, so that was ok.

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Last night it was the first performance of Il turco in Italia, an opera I had never seen. The orchestra Filarmonica Gioachino Rossini was conducted by Speranza Scappucci, who was also playing the fortepiano during the recitativi. They were all fantastic!! I really liked the conductor, she gave a lot of support to the singers, and was amazing at keeping everybody together in the more complex moments. Rossini came out in his glory, with a light, charming and funny touch. Brava Maestra! Bravi tutti!

The director was Davide Livermore, with a modern production, which, finally, I could somewhat enjoy. I wasn’t exactly enthusiastic about it, but: there was an idea, the idea was understandable, the mise en scene did not interfere with the music. This is more than one can hope, these days, so it passes with flying colors. The idea was to recall the great Italian movie director Federico Fellini, so the opera is set like his movie 8½. The idea is not crazy, because in this opera there is a very modern character, the poet Prosdocimo, who is looking for an idea for his play, just like in 8½ Mastroianni/Fellini is a movie director looking for inspiration for his next movie. Prosdocimo becomes both the audience and the creator of what is happening around him: he tells the story, and he makes it happen at the same time. So we have a Prosdocimo dressed like Mastroianni, a Donna Fiorilla dressed like Claudia Cardinale in the movie, and the chorus representing a Circus. The Turk, Selim, is dressed exactly as the White Sheik (another Fellini movie). All in all, the result is not astounding, but it’ s enjoyable.

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The Turk of the title was Erwin Schrott, former Mr. Netrebko, a bass-baritone specialized in Don Giovanni role. As far as I know, he did Rossini only once, with Muti, at La Scala, in 2003, in Moise et Pharaon. My feeling is that he doesn’t have a deep understanding of Rossini music. He is good, he has a very good stage presence (he’s also handsome), his voice is beautiful, good technique and strong, but I just don’t think he “gets” Rossini.

Olga Peretyatko is an old acquaintance of the Rossini Opera Festival, she has a wonderful Rossini soprano voice. I had already heard her in Otello in Milan, and I had liked her, but she left me a bit cold. Thinking about that now, maybe the part of Desdemona is a bit low for her, so she didn’t shine. But here, as Donna Fiorilla, she really showed off all her aces, and she has a lot. I really liked her in the first act, then I felt she lost focus in her final “grand aria of atonement and sadness”, having trouble finding her place in the cadenza.  My sources tell me she had a health problem during the intermission, and she really struggled, physically, through the second act, which is too bad, because in the first act she was truly brilliant. I guess I’ll have to hear her again!

Her husband, Geronio, was the absolutely marvelous Nicola Alaimo! In my opinion he was the best on stage, without a doubt. He breathes Rossini, he lives Rossini, more than singing his music. It’s as if he had a direct thread with Gioachino. I had already heard him in the barber of Seville, in Paris, and last night he once again nailed it. The part is very different from Don Bartolo in Barbiere: Geronio is an elderly husband with a young, pretty, and coquettish wife, who cheats on him under his nose. He is a weak, loving husband, completely incapable of handling the situation. His voice is just wonderful (to my taste) and the coloratura is simply perfect. Moreover his interpretation is always moving and well thought out.

The American tenor Rene Barbera was Narciso, the other lover of Donna Fiorilla. His part is typical of the parts created by Rossini for the tenor Giovanni David: extremely high, sky-rocket coloratura, a Florez part. Barbera is very good, his voice is naturally well set and very high. A bit too much in the nose, for my taste,  but he’s really a great Rossini tenor, worthy of more success.

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Prosdocimo (Mastroianni/Fellini) does not have an exciting part, but he’s on stage from the beginning to the end, and he represents the narrator, but also the deus ex machina of the whole story. Pietro Spagnoli, baritone, gave his best, with no uncertainties, an Italian voice very well suited to the part.

Also the two young singers from the Accademia Rossiniana were very good: Cecilia Molinari as Zaida and Pietro Adaini as Albazar, another very good Rossini tenor (how many of them are out there?).

The first evening at the Rossini Opera Festival was for me a great success. Tonight I’ll go see Ciro in Babilonia, and I’ll let you know.

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