I don’t suppose anybody watches a Rossini comedy for profundity or great insights into human nature but there’s no denying that done well they can be great fun. This 2002 performance of Il Turco in Italia from the Opernhaus Zürich certainly manages to be that.
The basic plot is predictably silly and full of stock characters; gypsies, flirty young wife, dim older husband, lecherous Turk etc. but wrapped around this is the idea of a poet who is recording what he is seeing as the basis for a new play while, sometimes successfully, sometimes not, trying to influence the action to meet his needs. It’s quite clever and often very funny.
To match the artificiality of the plot director Cesare Lievi and designer Tullio Pericoli create a sort of exaggerated “children’s colouring book” environment. The staginess is reinforced by some stylised poses and characters entering and exiting on a moving track. It’s interesting to look at and works well backed up by careful Personenregie and some really good acting.
The performances are first class. The cast are pretty much all more than up to the heavy vocal demands Rossini places on them. At the heart of the action is Cecilia Bartoli as the unfaithful wife, Fiorilla. From her very first entrance there is no doubt at all who the diva is. She knocks off the vocal fireworks of Non si da follia maggiore quite effortlessly. It’s a feat she repeats throughout. Her principal foil is the Turkish sultan Selim, played by Ruggero Raimondi. He’s a true basso cantabile with tons of vocal flexibility and the ability to cope with crazy fast runs. Paulo Rumetz is equally good as the confused elderly husband Don Geronio. Juditgh Schmid sings the mezzo role of Zaida, the constant lover of Selim turned gypsy fortune teller (don’t ask!). Her music is less spectacular; perhaps contrasting her steadfastness with Fiorilla’s infedilities, but she sings it very well. Oliver Widmer is the poet. The vocal demands on him are less but the part requires real acting skills and he pulls it off well. In facy, the acying from everyone id quite excellent. Franz Welser-Most conducts and manages to produce an ideal mix of musicality and break neck pace from all concerned.
Video direction is by Thomas Grimm. It’s a good piece of work. There are more close ups than I’d like but not excessively so and, for once, camera angles are used with meaning rather than just because the director is bored. He switches between an audience view of the stage and the poet’s view which helps frame the poet’s role nicely. Quite clever. The disk package is quite good. The picture is standard DVD quality helped by the vivid sets and fairly bright lighting. The sound is very acceptable DTS 5.1 (there’s Dolby 5.1 and PCM stereo too). Subtitles are English, French, German, Spanish and Japanese. There is a trilingual booklet (EN/FR/DE) with track listings and a rather serious essay abot the piece and the production rather obviously originally in German.
I’m not sure I’ll ever really be a Rossini fan but this disk is very fine. It’s in the same class as Dario Fo’s brilliant Il barbiere di Siviglia and comic opera DVDs don’t come much better than that.