Italian Opera Festival – Il Turco in Italia – Gioacchino Antonio Rossini
English National Opera
Once again I was at the Coliseum, on 24 October 2000 to see the ENO in what was another tribute in the Coliseum’s Italian Opera Festival, Rossini’s The Turk in Italy, directed by David Fielding, the orchestra conducted by David Parry. On 11 October the opera received its first performance in English. The libretto was originally by Felice Romano but an English version has been produced by Kit Hesketh-Harvey (of Kit and the Widow cabaret fame) who brings the opera all into world of Fellini’s 8 and Half.
A real tribute to Felline’s life and times as can be seen by the cover portrait of the great man himself. It is set in the Cinecitta film studios, Rome, at the height of the Italian new-wave cinema in 1961, the story-taking place on the set of the forth-coming blockbuster Italia! It portrays all the tantrums, creative crises, mood-swings, biking, intrigue etc. Which is all part of life on set, but in the end Fiorella – a Bette Davis-style formidable bitch – produces a performance worthy of the great screen diva that she truly is.
As Fellini on Fellini (or should it be Fellini on Opera) said: “I have always held a great fascination for opera. It is a kind of Italian ritual, an emblem of Italian-ness, our most accurate reflection. It has gone on throughout Italian history: the wars of independence, the struggle for unification, fascism, and the resistance. It is the form of spectacle which most resembles us, which most directly expresses our psychology, our mentality, our sense of style.”
Prosdocimo – a film director – was performed by Thoms Allen; Fiorilla – a screen diva by Judith Howarth; Geronio, her elderly husband, a film producer by Donald Maxwell; Zaida – a masseuse by Victoria Simmonds; Selim, a Turkish film star by Jeremy White; Narciso, a matinee idol by Toby Spence and Albazar, the director’s PA, by Ryland Davies.
Thomas Allen, a veteran of ENO and international star, with his wonderful stagecraft, does a marvellous job of turning Prosdocimo into a Fellini-esque film director, got up to look exactly like Marcello Mastroianni as he was in Fellini’s 8 and half.
There is a memorable Act One duet “Per piacere alla Signora” – “so advise me then, Signora” – for the heroine and her aged husband. The highlight of Act Two, and the opera’s climax is the great quintet “O, guardate che accidente” – “what a muddle, what a huddle” in which Geronio is bamboozled by the sight of multiple Selims and Fiorillas. That the whole thing is a game is confirmed by the featherweight canonical allegro “Questo vecchio maladetto” – “This is madness, pure invention” heard just before the end.