Joan Sutherland Theatre, Sydney Opera House
August 10, 2018

Three years before they put Porpoise Spit on stage in Muriel’s Wedding the Musical, director Simon Phillips and set and costume designer Gabriela Tylesova set their sights on another seaside town, this one near Naples, in a new production of Rossini’s 1814 comedy Il Turco in Italia – The Turk in Italy. The production was a hit when it opened in 2014, Phillips moving the action to the 1950s, affectionately mining dated ideas about gender for comedy, and playing fast and loose with the surtitles – he translates Rossini’s Italian into Australian idioms like “we’re on a pig’s wicket” and isn’t afraid to make 19th-century euphemisms a little more literal. In this revival by Andy Morton, the show has lost none of its sparkle.

Rossini’s comedy sees poet Prosdocimo working as a waiter and searching for a plot for a comedy he’s writing – a fun framing device that binds the tangled love interests, and one which Phillips leans into with post-modern glee. Prosdocimo’s aging employer Don Geronio is concerned about the wandering eye of his wife Fiorella who is quite taken with the newly arrived Selim. Selim’s ex Zaida is also in town with a band of gypsies, complicating matters further, while Geronio’s friend (and Fiorella’s admirer) Narciso hatches his own plans.

Opera Australia, Turk in ItalyOpera Australia’s The Turk in Italy. Photo © Keith Saunders

Tylesova’s revolving set is a brightly coloured, 1950s style beach-side bar/apartment/nightclub with neon sign and red bar stools, her dynamic lines feeding the energy on stage under Nick Schlieper’s effective lighting and her costuming – from 50s bathing suits to Elvis costumes – fits the show to a T. Phillips keeps the action cracking along with physical comedy and tongue-in-cheek choreography (there are plenty of fights and chase scenes) married to Rossini’s upbeat score.

Italian Paolo Bordogna (who sung in the 2014 run) returns as the titular Turk, Selim, bringing comic swagger and a warm baritone to the role, and playing off his rival, Geronio – a very funny Warwick Fyfe as Fiorella’s doddering husband – particularly in their patter song of the second act.

Anna Dowsley brings her clear, refulgent mezzo to Zaida, reprising the role with which she made her Opera Australia debut in 2014 (“a triumph,” according to Clive Paget then and no less impressive today). Tenor Graeme Macfarlane puts in a fine turn as her confidant, Albazar.

Turk in ItalyGraeme Macfarlane, Anna Dowsley and Samuel Dundas in Opera Australia’s The Turk in Italy. Photo © Keith Saunders

Australian-Italian tenor Virgilio Marino brings his own comic chops to Narciso – delivering an impressive aria with refined, gleaming tenor (while stripping down in a beach changing hut) – though there were moments earlier in the show when he felt underpowered.

Baritone Samuel Dundas also returns to the production as the poet/puppet master Prosdocimo, with voice in top shape and well-honed comic timing, his performance is a delight throughout as he tends the bar and works on his play.

As the pleasure-seeking Fiorella, soprano Stacey Alleaume delivers shining, agile coloratura and vivacious energy, her Non si dà follia maggiore, in which Fiorella laments the tedium of monogamy, brims (sometimes overflowing) with pleasure. Her sound is particularly sweet in the middle register, and if there were a few moments when it became strident up high, she nailed the stratospheric notes with confidence and power on opening night.

Turk in ItalyStacey Alleaume, Paolo Bordogna and Samuel Dundas in Opera Australia’s The Turk in Italy. Photo © Keith Saunders

Chorus and orchestra are both in top form under the baton of Andrea Molino, Phillips’ vision requiring a particularly tight wedding of action and music – the assembling of beach-goers during the Overture is a highlight (and the horn solo is exquisite).

Phillips’ clever, joyous production buzzes with energy – there’s always plenty of action on stage and he makes one of Rossini’s less popular comedies (before this production it hadn’t been seen here since the 70s) feel surprisingly taut and modern. While the show loses some of its steam in the second act, this is offset by some powerhouse vocals from Alleaume, who more than hits her stride. All in all, The Turk in Italy is loads of fun and makes for an entertaining night at the opera.

Opera Australia’s The Turk in Italy is at the Sydney Opera House until September 1

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