It seems that up until this point my experience of opera has consisted of prominently the melodramatic, often with tragic denouements. But not so with the light, thoroughly enjoyable Il Turco in Italia, which arrives to exuberantly lift the viewer's day whilst transporting us to mid-20th century
The narrator, and conduit for the audience, is the poet Prosdocimo, who arrives in the city seeking inspiration for his next play. There he finds a farcical, complicated story of duelling lovers and wandering eyes, with the arrival of Selim, a Turkish prince, creating conflict between Zaida, his former fiancée, and Fiorilla, Don Geronio's wife. The audience watches as the writer observes and intervenes to shape the narrative that will inspire his play, and bring this conflict to a head.
Il Turco in Italia is headlined by a quintet of outstanding performances. Katie Bray's Zaida traverses effectively from the heartbroken fiancée to the fiery scorned lover, and is engaging in both roles. Mark Stone makes a wonderfully mischievous Prosdocimo, at one point breaking the fourth wall and venturing into the audience. The ambiguity of the extent of his control over proceedings is a fun additional layer and was much discussed with my partner on the drive home. Geoffrey Dolton is wonderfully pathetic, and yet manages to elicit sympathy from the audience as the wronged husband, Geronio. And Quirijin de Lang's Selim is a swaggering treat, particularly in his chemistry with Fioralla.
And it is Sarah Tynan as Fiorilla who nearly steals the show. She is a conniving, fascinating delight, dominating the stage whenever she is on it, and hitting some marvellously high notes. It almost feels a shame that in the opera's endowment her immoral actions must result in a diminishing of her status as she is a beacon of fun throughout, refreshing in her self-determination and ability to manipulate those around her. The rest of the cast are very good, with the ensemble moments being very enjoyable. The clarity of the choreography and movement demonstrates director Martin Duncan's marshalling of his talented cast, along with his movement and assistant director, Nick Winston.
Gioachino Rossini's rambunctious score and Felice Romani's buoyant libretto means this opera moves at a terrific pace, stokes many laughs and has a clarity throughout. Francis O'Connor's design is sensational, making generous use of Garsington's expansive space. The action takes place in front of a stylised backdrop of
As ever the lush surroundings of Garsington (on this, an exceptionally nice evening) can threaten to cloud a critic's judgement. But Il Turco in Italia gently grips and bathes the audience in the warm glow of very good farcical humour. The cast is exemplary, with Sarah Tynan's Fiorolla being particularly memorable and this stands as the best opera I have seen in my ongoing journey to become an opera connoisseur.