LA Opera The Turk in Italy Review - Hilarious and Charming

(Los Angeles, CA - February 19, 2011) A lot of people who say they don't like  opera really have no idea what they are missing.

Georja: In comedy clubs across the nation, opera often gets a bad rap, satirized with images of staid fat singers droning on for hours. Even though I have my master's degree in theater, it would be years later before I truly got to know what opera was about and how exciting it can be. LA Opera's The Turk In Italy (Il Turco in Italia) by Gioachino Rossini is one production that I wish all comedy lovers, stand-up comedians, and newbies to the medium could attend.

Donna Fiorilla (Nino Machaidze) apparently loves her middle-aged husband but thinks one lover is never enough.

From the opening bars of Rossini's theme, those of us who grew up with "The Lone Ranger" TV series may get faint images of stallions galloping, and our heart starts to pound a little more quickly in excitement. This is just the beginning of an exhilarating evening of entertainment. 

Rossini's music, so perfectly played by the orchestra under James Conlon's direction is fulfilled with an impeccable matching of style, humor, innovation, beauty and talent.  Kudos to original director Christof Loy and present stage director Alex Weidauer for pulling it all together with so much fire and wit. I was in awe of the multitalented and gorgeous performers, the sets, the juicy moments of slapstick, sight gags and irony that fill every moment of the first act, which is nearly perfect.

Zaida (Kate Lindsey) gives Prosdocimo, the Poet (Thomas Allen, seated) an idea for a story. Her protector Albazar (Matthew O'Neill) wishes she'd forget about old boyfriends.

Gerald: This production is doubly funny, not just because of Rossini's choice of zany material, but also because of the modern visualization. Stage director Weidauer, building on the original production directed by Loy, stages it all like a frenetic Fellini movie set. We open on a gypsy encampment in Italy, which could be in the 1950s, with the tiny trailer from Juliette of the Spirits parked center stage. Think "clowns in the circus" and delight in the chaos that ensues. Scenery and costume designer Herbert Maurauer seems to be playing with the same idea. The Poet ( Thomas Allen) comes on looking much like the movie maestro in baggy business suit, as he frets about finding an idea for his "story" - a familiar process that has become a stereotype in movies about tortured filmmakers from Cinecita to Tinseltown

Poor Fiorilla. So many men lust after her. So little time!

This is opera buffa, an old, madcap operatic form that featured mixed-up romantic relationships, brazen adultery, confusion of roles, cross-dressing and literally show-stopping arias. Famous singers of the day would command the set for long periods of time, but demanding scores and high expectations would make them earn every moment in the spotlight. Rossini wrote this one when he was just 22, and it has all the shamelessness of a young tyro.

Don Geronio (Paolo Gavanelli, L) would prefer his wife fool around with the harmless Don Narciso (Maxim Mironov) rather than the dark, scary Turk.

Georja: The lead soprano, Donna Fiorilla, is played by the charismatic, funny and sexy powerhouse Nino Machaidze. She is the capricious, fun-loving wife who  wants to ensnare all men for her amusement, and we can't take our eyes off of her. Where and how did she ever learn her perfect and over-the-top comedy timing, along with her hours of voice training? Her strong and gorgeous voice is matched in quality by the also very humorous and agile baritone Paolo Gavanelli who plays Don Geronio, her flustered and outraged husband.

Gerald: We saw Machaidze last season in her LA Opera debut as Adina in Elixir of Love, and you commented then about her exceptional combination of vocal mastery in an accomplished comedienne. Georja: She never disappoints...and I am smitten! Gerald: And I agree: Gavanelli also holds the stage masterfully through many long arias, all of them comic. His vocal talents deliver machine-gun-rapid coloratura. I've never heard anything like it.

L to R: Selim, the Turk (Simone Alberghini), both dazzles and worries the Italians Don Narciso, Fiorilla, and Don Geronio.

Georja: The story itself is filled with crazy old fashioned structures from Commedia dell'Arte and other wild complications as are in many operas. However, compared to many opera stories, it seems updated and fresh with the addition of the character of Prosocimo, the Poet, played to a tee by Thomas Allen.  He is a Pirandello-esque figure who is trying to construct a story from the lives of colorful people around him. He not only observes but interacts - encouraging them in different directions that he thinks will be good for the story. Gerald: The Poet is manic and absent-minded, stumbling into walls and injuring himself by degrees - in yet another comic element - to the point where he's bandaged and limping around on a crutch by the end of the opera. Allen is a regular at the Met, and it was a thrill to see him back in Los Angeles.

Screwball comedy opera-style: At a masked ball, identities become confused.

Georja: The story begins with laughs:  thirty Turkish gypsies who file out of a very small trailer. We are quickly introduced to the pining young lovelorn Zaida played by mezzo-soprano Kate Lindsey, who is lamenting her lost love and will later become Fiorilla's rival in a hilarious cat fight. The dude they fight over is the handsome Turkish prince Selim, a very well cast bass-baritone played by Simone Alberghini. He literally comes flying in on a magic carpet. Handsome young tenor Maxim Mironov (Don Narcisco)is another lovelorn suitor of Fiorilla who also jumps into the fray.

Fiorilla settles down? We doubt it.

Gerald: Portly Don Geronio (Gavanelli) seems resigned to his wife's incessant flirtations. In an odd alliance, he apparently decides that the callow Don Narciso (Mironov) is much less of a worry than the gangster-like Selim. The Turk not only looks like a drug dealer but is also constantly shadowed by a creepy, inscrutably silent bodyguard who packs a loaded Luger, which he waves in the face of anyone who appears to challenge the boss.

Don Geronio laments his difficulties in coping with a georgeous wife.

Georja: The staging is brilliant with new sets slyly constructed before our eyes during the height of passionate scenes. The chorus and dancers add to the entertainment greatly when they are squabbling gypsies, lewd partygoers, horny workmen or sexy bikini-clad groupies. Act II, although it includes many great scenes, loses momentum as it delves into moralizing when Fiorilla is put in her place. But all is not lost. Her dilemma produces an amazing tour-de-force aria  from our heroine as a broken woman. And the piece manages to end on a much more upbeat note satirizing marital frustrations.

The gypsy chorus sings, "People are so gullible, we can live in abundance."

Gerald: The Europe of 1814 that received this opera was a time of profound disappointment with government. The ideals of the French Revolution had faded, Napoleon had turned out to be a cruel megalomaniac, and official corruption was the order of the day. Rules were therefore made to be broken, or simply ignored. The upper classes lived for themselves and for excess. Then, as perhaps now, silliness made perfect sense, and laughter was the best medicine.

Selim (the Turk in white suit) and bodyguard arrive on a flying carpet.

Georja: Although, when this opera was first presented in Milan it was roundly scorned by the Milanese.  One of the primary reasons is the disrespect they felt it showed toward Italian culture, showcasing the their customs as over the top and laughable. After a few performances in Europe it was never again seen for 101 years! Luckily it has been revisited and brought back in such a glorious way.

Marital bliss or strife? At home with Zaida.

Georja:   If you have ever enjoyed farce, I challenge you to find a more hilarious or charming presentation of it on stage.  DO NOT MISS THIS EXPERIENCE!!!

Georja Umano is an actress/comedienne and animal advocate. Gerald Everett Jones is the author of the Rollo Hemphill series of comic novels.

Photos by Robert Millard courtesy of LA Opera

The Turk in Italy (Il Turco in Italia) by Gioachino Rossini

Los Angeles Opera 135 N. Grand Ave. Los Angeles, CA (213) 972-8001 (213) 687-3490 fax [email protected]

February 19 - March 13, 2011

Sun, Feb 27, 2pm
Wed, Mar 2, 7:30pm
Sat, Mar 5, 7:30pm
Thurs, Mar 10, 7:30pm
Sun, Mar 13, 2pm

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