So, yes, Rossini and sex romps, not exactly what you think of together. Well, not until you get to know the plots of most of his comic operas. Then, yes, its all about who gets it, who doesn't, who is chasing it, and who ends up winning in the end.
And, then you need the sort of cast, who can not only throw of the vocal high jinks with ease (as shown above), but also carry off the sort of staging that makes the crazy stories work. In Turk, we basically have a bedroom farce, revolving around the young Fiorilla, busy sleeping her way through the town, her husband, her lover, the Turk of the title who arrives to stir the plot, and a young gypsy, who of course, turns out to be the Turk's long lost love. Throw in the playwright who is busy recording the goings on to make his first great play, add a chorus and cook till light, frothy, effervescent, and serve with a chilled bubbly, probably prosecco, considering the music (ably held together by Andrea Molina from the pit). That is basically all you need to know.
So, like most of Rossini's operas, there is always a star role that the whole opera revolves around. In this case, it is Fiorilla, the girl who is open all hours and seemingly to all comers. How she came to marry Geronio is anyone's guess, but it is your typical young excited vixen/old crotchety fool type couple that is the stuff of these plots. Needless to say, Emma Matthews takes the challenges of Fiorella's music, throws those notes off against the back wall of the theatre, and vamps her way up, basically having a great time doing it; relishing the chance not to play the tragic heroine, but rather showing off her great comic skills as well as her sizzling coloratura. It is the first time I have seen her play comic in a long time (I think the last I saw live was back in the 80's as Cupid in Orphee aux enfers) but, just like in Lucia, she remains the one character your eyes are constantly drawn to on stage, as she turns the vamp level up to 11.
As her husband, the mislead fool, Conal Coad gives us more of what we expect. This role could have been written with him in mind. His fearless portrayals of comic roles are legendary, and here, he is once again in his element. If at times his coloratura was not as clear as it could have been, who cares? He clearly relishes being the butt of jokes and can teach a thing or two to many performers about singing loudly, even when motorboating Fiorilla.
As the Turk, Poalo Bordogna had fun with pretty much every stereotype of Turks you can think of. It is not exactly a subtle comedy, but getting to play the exotic playboy with two girls at your beck and call is probably most baritones' dream. He had fun doing it. He even does a mean Elvis hip swivel as required by the staging. If his voice was not as good as some of the others, he clearly had no problem negotiating the challenging vocal lines. Though, lacking the beauty of some of the other voices on display, he left me wishing for Jose Carbo at times, who would have been just as funny, with a beautiful flexible voice to match the others. Not that I did not like him, I just wished for a nicer sound, and when you know an Australian could do it better....
As Narciso the lover, Luciano Botelho was hilarious and sang with a darker tone than we sometimes get from Rossini tenors. However, he had no problems negotiating the vocal writing, even while changing on stage (twice) and dealing with a range of sight gag props (anyone who can sing clearly and beautifully, while wearing goggles, swimming flippers and carrying an inflatable mattress deserves some sort of award).
Also impressive was the Prosdocimo of Samuel Dundas, the playwright to be, whose frequent asides to the audience were as much to elaborate the action, as to explain his future play. He almost worked as Greek chorus at times, but never had to drop character, indicating many great characterisations ahead of him. If his singing got lost in some of the ensembles, that was unsurprising. A young baritone singing Rossini is always a big ask...
And, of course, mention must be made of Anna Dowsley making her mainstage debut for OperaAustralia as Zaida, the gypsy/lover of the Turk. Maybe she was not as secure in her comedy as some of the other performers, but her voice was clear and very well produced. This was a very promising debut for a voice that had no problems in filling the theatre. And one I look forward to hearing more of in the future.
I suppose I should mention that the staging was updated to the 1950's - resulting in fabulous loud colours and dresses that flatter curves (always a good thing for opera!) While the set looked fabulous, like some 50s diner designed by a cubist, the revolve that was a feature (and intended to speed the scene changes) failed to revolve, resulting in a very late start as they tried to fix it. However, with Prosdocimo acting as the barman taking on extra duties of removing tables and chairs as needed, it was not missed much. A couple of times things suffered slightly, but it did not affect the story telling significantly. It still flowed smoothly from one scene to another, things just may have happened in earshot of characters that were not supposed to hear them. Which is nothing new for opera, of course! It also meant a lot more people had to leave via a small space into the wings, than was probably planned.
I should also make special mention of the surtitles that the director Simon Phillips prepared. They were a treat in themselves, filled with all sorts of unexpected slang, clearly aimed at Australians. Referring to the Turk as a doner kebab was a good example of what I mean.
So, all in all, this is definitely a great night out. It is not serious, nor does it make any pretense to offer any deeper meanings. But it does offer some truly amazing singing, and lots of belly laughs, especially in the second act. I had thought based on the cast, that this was going to be one of the must sees for this year's opera season. Having seen it, I have no hesitation in saying that now. Go, laugh, and live life loud.
I shall leave you with our heroine, singing something different, but equally vocally challenging.