Sunday, 11 April 2010

Rossini at the Royal, or, At Last, Thank God!, A Hit!

Regular readers will know that my reports on the Royal Opera this season have not been especially favourable. I am therefore delighted to be able to say that at least the main stage has got a real hit on its hands with this superb revival of Rossini's Il Turco in Italia. I have to confess to a rather moorish love of Rossini, if that's the word I want. If you are feeling low it is just such a tonic. Done properly, his music can be wonderfully, gloriously uplifting, and so it is in this revival.

The plot is exceptionally silly, and takes three pages of the programme book to explain. Put succinctly an aging poet (Thomas Allen) is trying to find a plot for a new opera, and ends up focusing on the extremely coquettish Fiorilla (Aleksandra Kurzak) who is juggling at least three different men through the opera. Throw in a visiting Turk (one of Fiorilla's three lovers), and a band of gypsies and you just have an awful lot of fun basically.

The direction and the set support this too. The gypsies begin by stripping first a hiker and then a woman with a baby carriage down to their undergarments. Selim the Turk arrives in a magnificent boat (how wonderful actually to have a real boat, or a fair stab at one, on stage). Fiorilla seduces her victims in a gloriously garish apartment beneath a picture of Mount Versuvius, and the various protagonists all arrive for the Act I finale in cars or on Vespas, each mode of transport superbly in keeping with their various characters. The acting of the principles, particularly Fiorilla, her husband Don Geronio (Alessandro Corbelli), and Thomas Allen as the poet, is spot on throughout. Combined, the whole draws plenty of laughs and never fails to keep you interested.

As with the acting, so with the singing, there is not a weak link in this company, but again Kurzak, Corbelli and Allen are the standouts. It is an enormously refreshing change to be able to sit back and just drink in wonderfully sung aria after wonderfully sung aria, and with laughs thrown in as well. Concerning Allen it is worth noting that while the voice plainly doesn't have the full rich strength of the past it still has plenty of character and is never unpleasant to listen to – an interesting set of contrasts with that other old stager and current Covent Garden regular, John Tomlinson.

In the pit, meanwhile, Maurizio Benini drew fine playing from the orchestra, and brought a real taste of spice, flare and bounce to the score which makes the most of the infectious Rossini style. Again fun is the watchword.

In short, if you are feeling dragged down by the long failure of spring to arrive (although here in deepest Lincolnshire it at last appears to have done so), or disheartened by the return to the office after the Easter break, then get down to Covent Garden and cheer yourself up with one of the remaining three performances.

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