Il turco in Italia isan opera in two acts by Gioachino Rossini. The libretto is by Felice Romani, and this was in its turn an adaptation of a libretto by Caterino Mazzolà for the opera of the same name (1788) by the German composer Franz Seydelmann. First performed on 14 August 1814 at La Scala in Milan. Attended performance Opernhaus Zürich, 14 May 2019.
Donna Fiorilla, Gemahlin von Don Geronio: Julie Fuchs
Don Geronio: Renato Girolami
Don Narciso, Fiorillas Liebhaber: Edgardo Rocha
Prosdocimo, ein Dichter: Pietro Spagnoli
Zaida, eine Zigeunerin: Rebeca Olvera
Albazar, Zaidas Gefährte: Nathan Haller
On 28 April, a new production of Gioacchino Rossini’s Opera Buffa Il Turco in Italia premiered at the Zurich Opera House after having been absent here for 17 years. The previous production by Italian director Cesare Lievi with Cecilia Bartoli and Ruggiero Raimondi in the leading roles was totally enchanting and has unfortunately never been revived after only one series of performances. There is however a DVD that allows a direct comparison of the previous production with the current one: while this fifth performance after the premiere offered some of the finest Rossini singing I have heard over the last few years, the production by German director Jan Philipp Gloger seemed to confirm once more two “wisdoms” that are frequently expressed by older opera lovers: “There are no better performances to attend” and “Everything was better before”. I must admit that Gloger`s production offers many witty details, a (mostly) light atmosphere with a very detailed and even intelligent Personenregie, but these are unfortunately the only positive aspects I can mention about this production.
Totally different plot
Gloger adapts, once more, the current trend of opera directing and updates his production from 18th century Naples to a contemporary German or Swiss apartment building. While updating Il Turco might work in general, the director tries to present the audience a totally different plot – which is clashing with the music and libretto from the opening of the curtain. On Ben Baur’s over-used revolving stage we can see the three apartments of Don Geronio and Fiorilla, the poet (here: video artist) Prosdocimo and Selim. Of course, in that house a washing machine has its indispensable place. Selim is here a young Turkish man who has moved in recently and starting a love affair with Donna Fiorilla, the wife of his neighbour. The purpose of the opening gipsy chorus makes absolutely no sense at all in this context – we see a group of Turkish people entering the stairwell of a foreign building without any plausible reason.
At the end of the day, when Selim is supposed to arrive in Italy on a ship, the director`s concept has completely failed: While we can hear the music outline how a ship comes closer to the beach while swaying on the waves, it makes absolutely no sense to see how Selim opens the door of his new apartment to have a seat on his sofa.
Something else annoying – as soon as the libretto does not fit to the director’s concept, changes in the surtitle translation try to hide this from the audience. No, “zingari ” does not mean “foreigners” and “poeta” in Italian is not a (video-)artist, just to name two examples. The costumes by Karin Jud negate any connection to the Opera Buffa Tradition. Instead, we see sweatpants with Adidas Strips for Selim and some members of the Chorus, while Don Geronio must wear an ugly sweater with jeans making this cheated husband look like a total fool. In the second part of the evening the director decided to criticize right wing populism. It feels as if now he wants to patronize the audience with something that is neither new nor original at all and has been seen ad infinitum in many recent opera productions right across Europe. At the “Fest der Freundschaft”, that replaces the opera’s masked ball, we can see Don Narciso, here a jealous, frustrated and xenophobic caretaker, hanging posters as we know them from the right wing German AfD- or Swiss SVP-Party. During the final Chorus Prosdocimo presents his cut video material combined with xenophobic slogans projected on a black curtain that covers the entire stage, while the singers must sing their last phrases from off…. Pity!
Outstanding music qualities
As mentioned, the musical qualities of this opera production have been outstanding. Julie Fuchs as Donna Fiorilla deals brilliantly with her difficult coloraturas, her clear, bell-like soprano works excellently in all registers. Nahuel di Pierro is a lively and credible Selim with a warm and profound sounding bass voice, while Renato Girolami tries to maintain at least some semblance of Opera Buffa and the Commedia dell’ arte tradition. His treatment of Rossini’s brilliant synthesis of text and music was outstanding in every moment of his interpretation. Edgardo Rocha’s tenore di grazia presented a real firework of high notes and he was an absolutely luxury casting for this rather small role. Pietro Spagnoli was a present, a bit snaggy Poeta Prosdocimo, while Rebeca Olvera`s lively Zaida presented a worthy rival to Julie Fuchs’s Donna Fiorilla. Under the baton of Enrique Mazzola, the Philharmonia Zurich presented a slender and light interpretation with fast-paced tempos with wonderful details in the horns and trumpets of the sinfonia. The Chorus prepared by Ernst Raffelsberger sang on the same high level as the soloists. In the end there was much deserved applause for all singers. When leaving the opera house, one still had Rossini’s wonderful music circulating in one’s head, the production however was immediately forgotten.
Marco Ziegler (published 15 May 2019)