The Melbourne International Comedy Festival ends in April but O|A keeps the fun alive with this outrageous, long awaited national premiere of The Turk in Italy. This is opera buffa, so be prepared for wild buffoonery. It also comes with a modern, cheeky translation of the 22 year-old Rossini’s 200 year-old opera, a story about the curiosity of the exotic, infidelities and restored faithfulness.
For a good part, Rossini fades to the background but the crazy story he set to a blissful music is unharnessed with impressive clarity. Director, Simon Phillips, brazenly wastes no time setting a whirlwind pace for the cracks and cavorting to follow. Even Rossini’s bobbing overture defends itself as the ‘50s Naples beachside setting reveals leggy bathing beauties and swooning guys in a juicy blend of colour.
Designer, Gabriela Tylesova’s swirling mass of Astroturf slopes to Bar Geronio, a truncated, tiered and finely fenestrated ‘50s folly, forming a centrifugal-like focus for the action on stage. (This wildly saturated staging is not short on ‘f’s’.) It functions marvellously to create a variety of spaces for the juxtaposition of the characters. Colourful costumes, creative lighting, off-stage sound effects and a trove of stage props stimulated the flow, with stimulation extending in other ways amongst the well-cast ensemble.
Emma Matthews, the “flirt-fest” craving minx, Fiorilla, seduces her men and her audience with bountiful exuberance, as does her confident, lustrous, liquid coloratura. Geronio is her ridiculed husband of six years, rendered by Andrew Moran with a wonderful measure of bewilderment and gallantry in a voice of corresponding rich character. John Longmuir gives a dashing performance as Narciso, her stud-fluff on the side and Shane Lowrencev is Selim, the newly arrived, Turkish hunk and object of Fiorilla’s attention. Lowencev is hilarious and ever ready to undress but endowed with a beautiful and beastly bass. Adding further tension to the beachside, Selim is spotted by his ex-lover, Zaida, brought to the stage with the potent, pure voice of Anna Dowsley. All this becomes fabulous fodder for Prosdocimo, the waiter and poet attempting to write a play, sharply portrayed by Samuel Dundas.
Among the antics, Conductor, Anthony Legge, propels Orchestra Victoria to deliver a rich and lively performance, exposing Rossini’s rapturous score in moments of utter delight. No doubt, there’s fun in the pit too as a sweetly scored “Love Me Tender” surprises the audience in an Act Two interlude as Elvis Presley look-alikes appear one-by-one on stage.
It all makes you wonder what a 22 year-old Rossini might make of this modern take on his opera buffa. Judging by the LOL audience response, I’m confident he’d be delighted with the results.
Paul Selar is reviewing Opera Australia’s Melbourne Autumn Season with guidance from professional critics, Opera Australia’s own music staff and writing professionals.
What did other critics say?
“This Opera Australia production is a delight that hurls Rossini, famous in his own lifetime, into the modern era.” – Herald Sun
“Matthews’ delicately emotional performance at this point is a masterclass in bringing the audience to you.” – Simon Parris, Man in Chair
“Emma Matthews, as the seductive and easily-seduced Fiorilla, is in fine comedic form, and milks the role (and the score) for all its worth.” – The Daily Review
Watch the trailer and decide for yourself:
The Turk in Italy is on until May 13 at Arts Centre Melbourne. For tickets and more information, click here.