Garsington Opera at Wormsley, June 3
Il turco in Italia
This was day two of Garsington Opera at Wormsley. The welcome speech by Anthony Whitworth-Jones, the company’s general director, hinted that day one had proved something of a trial, but this new production of Il turco in Italia by Martin Duncan went as smoothly as could have been hoped. Instead of the chill winds of the night before, the Rossini audience roasted gently in the sunshine streaming through the new theatre’s stunning glass walls. Garsington Opera has certainly raised its game: the theatre building may be temporary, to be dismantled and re-erected every year, but the much-improved acoustics and all-round comfort will surely make Wormsley a must on the summer operatic circuit.
A sunny opera was just what the occasion demanded. Duncan’s production may not have hit such a specific comic tone as the Royal Opera’s current production, with its Vespa and Fiat 500 conveying us back to the 1960s, but it played Rossini’s sitcom-like twists and turns with Duncan’s usual skill. The period was set one decade further back in the 1950s and the setting was a charming, picture-postcard Naples. On one side of the stage the first-floor study of the poet Prosdocimo was constantly in view, showing him at work on his play, though that was not the only reason why Mark Stone made such a strong impression: his sturdy baritone filled the 600-seater hall. For comedy, Geoffrey Dolton’s Don Geronimo dominated: a brilliantly-observed portrayal of a put-upon, monotonous husband in a dull grey suit from a singer who seems to have the physical resources to create an unlimited number of comic characters.
As Fiorilla, one of Cecilia Bartoli’s favourite roles, the soprano Rebecca Nelsen sparkled as the role demands, but the extra decorations that she threw into ‘Se Fiorilla di vender bramate’ just failed to give the aria the pinpoint accuracy that would have clinched it as the opera’s musical high point (though perhaps they did at later performances). Attired in a bejewelled turban, Quirijn de Lang made Selim, the Turkish prince, an elegant mover who sang strongly with his resonant baritone.
Determined not to be fazed by Don Narciso’s high role, the tenor David Alegret threw in even higher notes of his own with a fair degree of success that belied the worried look in his eye, though more variety of tone—not always so bright—would have been welcome. Victoria Simmonds was the characterful Zaida and Nicholas Sharratt made his mark as Albazar.
Set on its way by a playful (not quite note-perfect) solo trumpet in the Overture, the Garsington Opera Orchestra played well for David Parry and the performance had pace. This was not perhaps an insightful or original evening of comedy, but as a house-warming for Garsington’s new home it did very nicely.