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February 20, 2011

Simone Alberghini, Maxim Mironov, Nino Machaidze, and Paolo Gavanelli in Il Turco in Italia Photo: Armin Bardel/LAO 2011

This is why I love opera. Or more accurately, it’s performances and evenings like the one now on offer at Los Angeles Opera that make me obsessed with this most over-sized of all art forms. The company opened a run of Rossini’s infrequently performed Il Turco in Italia on Saturday night in a supremely funny and always superb production with L.A. Opera music director James Conlon conducting. How do I love thee? Let’s start with the overdue American premiere of a production from one of Europe’s most important and in-demand directors, Christof Loy. For this revival, Axel Weidauer filled in for Loy in the director's chair, but the show still has that unmistakable look. Loy's aggressively modern stagings often use contemporary street clothes and he’s managed to get Edita Gruberova to rip off at least two different wigs in two different shows. And this vision of Il Turco holds true to that form. This is an imaginary Italy of the recent past where all of the stage craft behind the scenes is readily on display. The male chorus members come dressed as stage hands at times and watch with bemusement as the characters spill out their emotions in song. It’s a show constantly in motion with walls and supernumeraries that slowly creep across the stage at times when there are more static vocal fireworks taking place elsewhere. And while all the action takes place in a single giant room, the inventive use of a huge variety of props keeps the stage exciting to the eye at all times. Granted there will be some complaints that this or that particular item doesn’t make sense at this or that moment. But that is foolishness. This production is as visually witty as the activity in the libretto and it raises the opera’s whole enterprise to another level.

The story concerns a flirtatious wife, Donna Fiorilla, who becomes enamored with a visiting Turk, Selim. This infuriates both her husband, Don Geronio, and her current lover, Narciso. The Turk also has a former lover, Zaida, who was forced to leave him in Turkey and is now living among the Romani in the very same Italian town he has arrived in. All of this is packaged within the meta-narrative of the poet Prosdocimo who is trying to break through his writers block by observing the local Romani to get new ideas. Soon he is both observing and writing the action of the opera as it unfolds with the characters interacting directly with him. Yes, it sounds slight, but Loy is expert at providing just the right amount of heft to these proceedings to make them funny without getting overly frothy.

And then there is that cast. Where to begin? Nino Macaidze stars as Donna Fiorilla and manages to stake her claim to these bel canto roles. She’s as good looking and certainly as strong and instinctive an actor as Anna Netrebko, with a more agile voice. She is excellent in this throughout. Paolo Gavanelli plays her cuckolded husband, Don Geronio, with a booming sound, superior comic timing, and a lot of physical comedy. Sir Thomas Allen returns to L.A. Opera as the poet, Prosdocimo, Il Turco’s quasi-narrator. His comic chops were proven beyond a doubt in the company’s 2008 Gianni Schicci, and he does not disappoint here. Then there is Kate Lindsey as Zaida whose voice I fall in love with more and more with each performance since her superb Nicklausse in New York last season. Simone Alberghini and Maxim Mironov round out the men in the cast with detailed and interesting performances. Mironov sings the tenor part, Narciso with the kind of light voice and agility one associates with Juan Diego Florez. His is a name to remember. This is one of those times where there are no weak links, and the comic heat generated by this cast can be overwhelming.

Did I mention how strong the orchestra sounded? James Conlon has done so much to raise the playing level of the L.A. Opera orchestra and this was one of the best performances I’ve heard them give. The work never lagged. The brass sounded assured throughout particularly in their most exposed moments. It's a wonderful evening and there are 6 more performance through March 13. Don't miss this.



As good as Machaidze is, she still is not as attractive either visually or aurally as Netrebko was at her best which was just a few years ago. Also, Mironov can compare the sound quality and projecting power of his voice to those of JDF's only in his dreams. Other than that, i agree - this is a wonderful production and very enjoyable night at the opera. But please read your last paragraph and fix all of the errors there ("then" instead of "them", a word or two apparently missing after "without", "their" instead of "there"). Such sloppy ending ruins the impression of the otherwise well-written review. Thanks.
Easily one of the worst opera performances I've ever seen. I was there opening night--front orchestra seats. Nino Machaidze isn't close to 1/100th the artist Netrebko is (or is in lyric rep, since she's no good in bel canto roles, either). Machaidze's coloratura was hideous--aspirate and ugly. She sings with almost no nasopharyngeal resonance. The only hints of overtones in her voice lie well above the staff. This is the next great thing?? Gilda at the Met?? Kate Lindsey sang with as depressed a larynx as I've heard her, which includes her much "lauded" Contes at the Met. Small, unremarkable sound that gets smaller as she ascends the scale.

The men were almost uniformly a joke. Thomas Allen is a great actor, but he hasn't had a serviceable voice in almost 10 years. Paolo Gavanelli was ghastly--no concept of head voice, bellowing his way through the role when his awful tremolo wasn't marring the quieter passages he sang. Simone Alberghini has a pretty colorless voice and almost no bottom, strange considering he calls himself a bass-baritone. Tenor was serviceable, but no big American house voice--for Pesaro, okay, but not in a 3,500 seat American barn.

Production had its moments, but for an operatic genre that's supposed to showcase the glories of the human voice, LA Opera's Turco made zero case for this score.
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