A gelati kaleidoscope
05/01/2014 - & May 3*, 7, 10, 13, 2014
Gioachino Rossini: Il turco in Italia
Emma Matthews (Fiorilla), Samuel Dundas (Prosdocimo), John Longmuir (Narciso), Shane Lowrencev (Selim), Andrew Moran (Geronio), Anna Dowsley (Zaida), Graeme Macfarlane (Albazar)
Opera Australia Chorus, Anthony Hunt (Chorus Master), Siro Battaglin (Pianoforte Continuo), Orchestra Victoria, Anthony Legge Conductor)
Simon Phillips (Director), Gabriela Tylesova (Set & Costume Designer), Nick Schlieper (Lighting Designer)
S. Lowrencev, E. Matthews (© Jeff Busby)
If Rossini’s early comedies are dessert confections, then this production of The Turk In Italy is a lavish serving of multi-flavoured, multi-hued gelati with all the toppings. Opera Australia’s new production captures an imagined 1950’s Italian seaside town, its colours, its sunlight, its bikinis, its motor cycles, its bars and cafes. Somewhere along the coast from Sorrento to Naples, we find Geronio’s Bar, a cleverly conceived café/bar/apartment/disco night-club, staffed by a young writer who dabbles in scribbling comedies while doubling as the barista. The colours are gaudy – the sky impossibly blue, the grass unbelievably green, the costumes outrageously loud and the bikinis…ahh…the bikinis…almost as alluring as the meticulously tanned legs.
Added to this La dolce vita vision, director Simon Phillips spices the comedy with an “adults only” translation and staging which has the audience variously roaring in fits of laughter and gasping at the risqué surtitles. In 1814, Rossini and librettist Felice Romani, both young and comparatively inexperienced, produced a topical, satirical comedy which was not noted for its subtlety of message but played upon stereotypes and stock situations acknowledging many local fashions. In this production, Simon Phillips produces a contemporary “tits and arse” send-up capturing many of the original manners but with riotously funny connections to the present day.
Any production of this opera must be constructed around the character of Fiorilla, the good-time girl who shifts her attachments as quickly as the beachgoers flip the pages of their fashion magazines. Opera Australia have now entrusted many productions in their Bel Canto repertoire to soprano Emma Matthews who again proves herself a master of the style. Her sure-fire coloratura and brilliantly lustred voice are again matched with a sparkling on-stage persona. Her acting in this piece of silliness is an absurd caricature. She captures a cartoon character with poignancy and carries off the big musical numbers including the notoriously complex ensembles with accuracy verging on the impossible: her ringing upper register soaring over orchestra and chorus to fill the vast space of Melbourne’s State Theatre. Emma Matthews is an absolute star in this repertoire; her on-stage confidence is infectious.
As the preening Turk, baritone Shane Lowrencev matches Fiorilla’s larger-than-life flirt and then goes further. Wearing a purple suit, silver snake-skin boots, white shirt open to reveal luxuriant chest hair resplendent with gold chains, masses of curly hair and macho moustache with sideburns, he is the peacock who poses and struts to the limitless fascination of the girls on the beach. Mr Lowrencev has great presence for this character. He is uninhibited in his outrageous parade of machismo including several “bump-and-grind” numbers and an appearance in tiger print underpants, at one time revealing a bare backside to the delight of the audience. This is un-subtle comedy underpinned by a precise and powerful voice. His range is huge and he plumbs bass notes of power and volume while reaching into the tenor range with equal strength and accuracy.
Anna Dowsley delivers a self-assured Zaida. Vocally strong, she easily carries her part in the ensembles while giving convincing performances in her solo pieces. The character of Narciso is dramatically and musically difficult to integrate into the overall structure of the opera. He is almost a super-numerary – as if Rossini had been obliged to work in a tenor role after completing the score. John Longmuir employs lots of stage business and acting skills which, in conjunction with his fine singing skilfully weave his character into a relevant element of the plot.
As the Poet/Barista Prosdocimo, Samuel Dundas worked a persuasive turn as the narrator/commentator. His youthful appearance belies his richly-toned voice which is at home in dramatic roles but captures a sharp and witty comic element in this role. He is engaging and the audience took to him almost as if he was our own commentary on the stupidity of the ever-spiralling farce of sexual mores and manners going on around him.
The hapless buffoon husband is a stock character of Italian comedies. In this production, Geronio gains stature as proprietor and namesake of the café/bar of the setting. Andrew Moran has a creditable résumé of achievements in both comic and dramatic characters for Opera Australia. His voice is eminently powerful giving real weight to his denunciation of Fiorilla but also sufficiently honeyed to convincingly carry off the torment of the cuckold.
Opera Australia Chorus from bathing suits and bare-chests to Elvis and Marilyn impersonations reliably gets into the spirit of ridiculousness pervading the production. They seductively rub tanning oil into extended limbs, flounce and preen about, massage hairy chests and generous bosoms and maintain a surety of musical line with comic presence. Orchestra Victoria under Anthony Legge gave a good performance, setting a break-neck pace that often had the audience gasping for breath.
This was a fun and absolutely silly night at the theatre – everything a Rossini comedy is meant to be. The singing is first rate and the laughs plentiful. Opera Australia has taken a risk staging this rarity and it pays off in peals of outraged laughter.