P. Gossett, Divas and Scholars:
Performing Italian Opera
Rossini, Il Turco in Italia,
C. Bartoli, Zurich Opera, F. Welser-Möst
Il Turco in Italia continues the theme of East-West interaction from Zaide, reversing the flow of immigration from Rossini's earlier comedy L'Italiana in Algeri, with Turks visiting Naples. Premiered at La Scala in 1814, it has been rare until recently: this spring Covent Garden staged it, not necessarily to good effect because of an odd production, and it is on for next season at Los Angeles Opera.
Listeners may think that they know their famous Italian operas, but as scholar Philip Gossett has shown magisterially in his Kinkeldey Award-winning book on Italian opera, Divas and Scholars: Performing Italian Opera, few areas of music history are so difficult to sort out. Gossett used an example of one of the most famous operas, Rossini's Barber of Seville, and Bartolo's aria A un Dottor della mia sorte, which early on had been eclipsed by an easier substitute aria composed by Pietro Romani, Manca un foglio, even to the point that it was being printed as "preferred" in published editions of the opera. "Thus, a change made to suit the needs of a particular singer had become writ," Gossett concludes, "[and] a 'tradition' had been born" (p. 218). Indeed, Gossett uses Turco as an example of a particularly complicated opera, because it was not only performed in multiple versions but also published in Paris in a completely different version (as Gossett points out, still being reprinted by Kalmus well into the last century!). Margaret Bent's critical edition of the score, for the Pesaro Complete Works, sorted out the many changes Rossini made during later revivals, as well as the matter of pieces in the original score not actually by Rossini (including the finale to the second act, which even in the first version Rossini took from another composer). Bent's edition was, rightly so, the score on the podium of conductor Eric Melear at Wolf Trap.
(L to R) Catherine Martin, Michael Sumuel, Chad Sloan, Michael Anthony McGee, Angela Mannino in Il Turco in Italia, Wolf Trap Opera, 2010 (photo by Kim Pensinger Witman for Wolf Trap Opera)
The vocal cast was topped by Michael Anthony McGee's Don Geronio, not only because of a suave voice (although with the worst tendency to rush) but because he created a vivid schlump of a character, a hapless husband right out of a Marx Brothers movie. Angela Mannino sang a meringue of a Fiorilla, Geronio's flirtatious wife, with flawless intonation, fairly good agility in the fioriture, and an airy tone that had none of the vocal weight familiar from earlier interpreters of the role. Michael Sumuel brought a big voice to Selim, the Turkish prince who lands in Naples, although he veered nasal at the top and was plagued by intonation problems. Catherine Martin was a fierce Zaida, and David Portillo had a smooth, incisive sound as Narciso, even hitting, mostly solidly, the outrageous high note in his big aria in the second act but opting to skip the second high note some tenors add at the end.
Anne Midgette, Cast of Wolf Trap's "Turk in Italy" works hard, but singing, like story, is uneven (Washington Post, July 12)
Tim Smith, Wolf Trap Opera's 'Il Turco in Italia' (Baltimore Sun, July 12)
The final staged production of the Wolf Trap Opera season is Britten's A Midsummer Night's Dream next month (August 13 to 17). Two recitals, with the excellent Steven Blier, are also on the calendar: Latin Days, American Nights (July 18) and Invitation to the Dance (August 1).