Opera Australia Blog

Cheat Sheet: The Turk in Italy

Everything you need to know about the Rossini opera you’ve never heard of: The Turk in Italy.

Who was the composer?

A photograph of Rossini by Carjat. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

A photograph of Rossini by Carjat. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Gioachino Rossini.

Rossini is a giant of the Italian opera world (both in terms of output and girth – he was a gourmand as well as a musical genius!).

How do you know you’re listening to Rossini?

People called the composer Signor Crescendo, because he often used the musical device of starting soft and getting louder, louder, louder as the action gets crazier on stage. One scholar describes Rossini’s crescendos as “tempests in teapots [which] begin in a whisper and rise to a flashing, glittering storm.”

Some of his music is dazzlingly difficult to perform – he wanted to show off the technical skills of his artists.

He wrote forty operas before the age of 40 and promptly retired to enjoy his fortune.

What’s the story?

Paolo Bordogna as Selim, Emma Matthews as Fiorilla, Conal Coad as Geronio. Photos by Lisa Tomasetti

Paolo Bordogna as Selim, Emma Matthews as Fiorilla, Conal Coad as Geronio. Photos by Lisa Tomasetti

A poet with writer’s block is desperately searching for inspiration as he writes his story. The flirtations and furies of his little seaside Italian town are boring him, but things heat up when a handsome Turkish prince arrives in town.

Suddenly, the flirtatious Fiorilla finds herself torn between her boring old husband Geronio, her jealous young lover Narciso and the mysterious, dashing young Turk. The Turkish Selim has problems of his own: how can he choose between the vivacious Fiorilla and the sad-eyed gypsy girl he once loved?

Perhaps a costume ball will help sort things out? (Because that always works!)

Suddenly, the poet’s story is a romantic comedy with all the ingredients for success: love, jealousy and mistaken identities.

Who are the main players?

Photos by Lisa Tomasetti

Photos by Lisa Tomasetti

What’s the big hit?

There aren’t really any big hits – the opera isn’t performed very often. But Fiorilla’s final aria is a knock out, designed to show off the soprano’s coloratura (or ornamentation) skills.

Something to listen for

Rossini’s comedies often include “patter music” – where the comic character sings at a very, very fast tempo with just one syllable to each note. The rhythm patterns are difficult and the lyrics are often tongue-twisters. Listen out when Geronio sings, and you’ll hear some examples.

This production is …

Samuel Dundas as Prosdocimo and the Opera Australia Chorus in The Turk in Italy. Photo by Lisa Tomasetti

Samuel Dundas as Prosdocimo and the Opera Australia Chorus in The Turk in Italy. Photo by Lisa Tomasetti

A thoroughly frivolous take on a comedy not performed in this country since 1974 (and even then, only by an amateur group!)

Director Simon Phillips is renowned for his work on comedies, and this time he has set the action in a 1950s Italian seaside town, drawing on film culture for the period. You can read more about his vision here.

His oft-collaborator Gabriela Tylesova has had great fun designing the sets and costume for the opera, exaggerating the clashing colours and bold silhouettes of the period. Get a sneak peek of her designs here.

A little history

Rossini wrote this opera at just 21 years old. He’d been writing operas since he was 18, and was already a household name. But The Turk in Italy wasn’t an instant success. When it premiered in Milan in 1814, the opera-going public felt a little cheated – the plot was basically an inversion of his smash-hit from the year before, The Italian Girl in Algiers.

Maria Callas revived it from obscurity in the 1950s, and while it is still not often performed, it’s full of stunning melodies and complex ensemble work.

Conversation starters

  • Born in a leap year, Rossini enjoyed the idea that he only had a birthday every four years. On his 76th birthday, he invited friends around to celebrate his 18th!
  • Rossini plagiarised from himself all the time, so if you’re wondering if you’ve heard that melody before, it might have been from a different Rossini opera!
  • He was arrogant of his talents, famously boasting: “Give me a laundry list and I’ll set it to music!”

Want more?

Watch director Simon Phillips as he talks about the madcap comic plot of The Turk in Italy, with a glimpse into the rehearsal room.

2 Responses to “Cheat Sheet: The Turk in Italy”

  1. Agust Helgason

    Hello.

    I’m the unicyclist from this play. Yesterday I was interviewed by an Icelandic newspaper “www.mbl.is”. This weekend they will publish a page on me and I was wondering if they are allowed to publish the photos from this site?
    I’m asking in regards of one photo in particular, the one that has the text “Samuel Dundas as Prosdocimo and the Opera Australia Chorus in The Turk in Italy. Photo by Lisa Tomasetti” beneath it. In this photo I have just unicycled across the stage and you can still see the back of me.
    They won’t publish it without your consent.

    On topic: great article, I love the interview with Simon. The play turned out really good!

    Cheers
    Agust

    Reply

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