The Turk in Italy


The Turk in Italy

Arts Centre Melbourne, State Theatre


Take two long-lost lovers – a gypsy and a prince. Add a quarrelling couple – a free spirit and a fool. And add another secret lover, just for good measure. Mix them with a masquerade ball, a dash of the seashore, some bikinis, mistaken identities, Naples, Turkey, dancing, deceit and delightful confusion, all splashed with the most charming operatic music around and you’ve got the recipe for a side-splitting romp with Rossini.

'The Turk in Italy is one of [Opera Australia's] brightest, best, and most daring shows'

The Daily Telegraph


Conductor Anthony Legge
Director Simon Phillips
Set & Costume Designer Gabriela Tylesova
Lighting Designer Nick Schlieper
Fiorilla Emma Matthews
Narciso John Longmuir
Geronio Andrew Moran
Selim Shane Lowrencev
Prosdocimo Samuel Dundas
Zaida Anna Dowsley
Albazar Graeme McFarlane

Orchestra Victoria

Opera Australia Chorus

Running time: 3 hours, including one 20-minute interval.

The action takes place in and around Naples in the 18th Century.

Act 1

By the sea shore near Naples

The poet Prosdocimo is searching for a plot for a drama buffo. He meets a band of Gypsies, including the beautiful but unhappy Zaidaand her confidant Albazar. Perhaps the Gypsies can provide some ideas? Prosdocimo's friend, the obstinate and sometimes foolish Geronio is looking for a fortune teller to advise him on his marital problems, but the Gypsies tease him. Zaida tells Prosdocimo that she is from a Turkish harem. She and her master, Prince Selim, were in love, but jealous rivals accused her of infidelity and she had to flee for her life, accompanied by Albazar. Nevertheless she still loves only one man and that man is Selim. Prosdocimo knows that a Turkish prince will shortly be arriving in Italy. Perhaps he can help? Geronio's capricious young wife Fiorilla enters singing of the joys of free and unfettered love. A Turkish ship arrives and the prince disembarks. It is Selim himself. Fiorilla is immediately attracted to the handsome Turk, and a romance rapidly develops. Narciso appears in her pursuit. He is an ineffectual admirer of Fiorilla posing as a friend of her husband. Geronio follows, horrified to learn that Fiorilla is taking the Turk home to drink his coffee!

Geronio's house

Fiorilla and Selim are flirting. Geronio enters timidly and Selim is initially impressed by his unexpected meekness, however Narciso noisily scolds Geronio. The domestic menage irritates Selim and he leaves after quietly arranging to meet Fiorilla again by his ship. Geronio tells Fiorilla he will not allow any more Turks - or Italians - in his house. She sweetly undermines his complaints, and then, when he softens, threatens to punish him by enjoying herself even more wildly.

The sea shore at night

Selim is waiting for Fiorilla. Instead he meets Zaida. The former lovers are shocked and delighted, and declare once more their mutual love. Narciso re-appears, followed by Fiorilla in disguise, with Geronio in pursuit. Selim confuses the veiled Fiorilla with Zaida and the two women come suddenly face to face. Fiorilla accuses Selim of betrayal. Zaida confronts Fiorilla. Geronio tells his wife to go home. There is a stormy finale.

Act 2

At an inn

Selim approaches Geronio amicably, offering to buy Fiorilla. That way Geronio can be rid of his problems and also make some money. Geronio refuses. Selim vows to steal her instead. After they leave, Fiorilla and a group of her friends appear, followed by Zaida. Fiorilla has set up a meeting between them and Selim, so that the Turk will be forced to decide between the two women. In the event he is indecisive, not wishing to lose either of them. Zaida leaves in disgust. Selim and Fiorilla quarrel but are eventually reconciled. As the poet tells Geronio, there is going to be a party. Fiorilla will be there to meet Selim, who will be masked. Geronio should also go - disguised as a Turk! Narciso overhears this, and decides to take advantage of the situation to take Fiorilla himself, in revenge for her former indifference. Geronio laments his destiny, that he should have such a terrible, crazy wife. Albazar passes by holding a costume - for Zaida!

A ballroom with masqueraders and dancers

Fiorilla mistakes Narciso for Selim and Narciso leads her away. Meanwhile Selim enters with Zaida, under the impression that she is Fiorilla. Geronio is in utter despair at finding two couples and two Fiorillas! Narciso and Selim both entreat their partners to leave with them. Confused and angry, Geronio attempts to stop both couples, but they eventually escape.

Back at the inn

Prosdocimo meets Geronio. They now know that Selim was with Zaida and guess that Fiorilla was with Narciso. Albazar confirms that Selim will definitely stay with Zaida. Prosdocimo advises Geronio to have his revenge on Fiorilla by pretending to divorce her and threatening to send her back to her family.

Having discovered Narciso's deception, Fiorilla tries to find Selim, but he has already left with Zaida. She returns home only to find the divorce letter, and her belongings being removed from the house. She is devastated by shame, and promptly deserted by her friends.

The beach

Selim and Zaida are about to set sail for Turkey, while Fiorilla is looking for a boat to take her back to her home town. Geronio finds and forgives her. They are affectionately reconciled. Both couples are now reunited and Prosdocimo is delighted with his happy ending.

Giaochino Rossini was only 21 when he wrote his smash hit, The Italian Girl in Algiers. It took him between 18 and 28 days, depending on who you believe (he claimed 18).

The speed at which he wrote it shows in the pacy drama, which combines romance with exotic dress-ups and plenty of laughs. It was such a success that the young and ambitious composer could not help himself: he had to write a sequel.

So it was that in 1814, just a year later, The Turk in Italy opened at La Scala, Milan. The premise was similar: take two pairs of lovers, mix them up and introduce a clash of cultures for added colour. What is amazing about the work, however, is that, unlike most movie sequels, it is genuinely different to its predecessor, packed full of invention, musically and dramatically.

Anthony Legge, Associate Music Director, says “in The Turk in Italy, Rossini puts a whole new spin on the mixed-up lovers scenario. We start out with a poet, Prosdocimo, looking for inspiration for his new opera. In walks a band of gypsies, then a ship full of Turkish sailors. Suddenly, he has all the inspiration he needs! 

"The result is vintage Rossini: a laugh a minute, but with several highly sophisticated ensembles which push the boundaries of what can be done on stage. That’s why it is hard to do, and that’s why we’re doing it.

"Great music, great drama and a great challenge.”

To make this tricky piece work, Opera Australia has assembled a cracking comic opera team, with Simon Phillips directing and the award-winning Gabriela Tylesova designing sets and costumes.

 According to Simon Phillips, The Turk in Italy will be “just about as much fun as you can have in an opera house”.

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