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Il Turco In Italia
Teatro Regio, Parma December 1998
Rosario Gennaro
When I got there on Dec 22 emotions were running high. First of all I was going to see my favourite singer (Mariella Devia) for the first time in a staged opera production. Also I was going to see on stage (and later backstage) a longtime email-pal of mine, the emerging bass-baritone Alfonso Antoniozzi. Finally the idea of sitting in the infamous loggione di Parma was giving me some shivers. 

The enthusiasm was quickly cooled off by the orchestra and the conductor. The overture lacked any rossinian verve and dragged along in the midst of embarassing mistakes on the part of the players. The trumpet and the horn in particular raised some loud mumble from my neighbors in the loggione. The entrance of the chorus did not really improve things. Suddendly I was afraid to find myself in a typical loggionisti riot. Yet it was sufficient for the singers to come on stage to bring the performance back on track.

Clearly the queen of the evening was Mme.Devia. First of all she shocked the audience with her sexy entrance. Looking stunning in a guepiere of red silk and black lace she came in standing on a stool on a rolling platform and moving sensually while singing of the folly of loving a single man. Vocally the cavatina was a little off (maybe the outfit was making her cold :) since Devia had some problems with the high notes cutting them short and really not producing a beatiful sound. But it did not last. As soon as we got to the duet with Don Geronio she was back to be the singer I had come to hear. The high notes were ringing now, the coloratura perfect and then the usual Devia's trademark, phenomenal "messe di voce" on sustained long notes. 
But it was not just a vocal feat. Devia was absolutely convincing as an actress, underlying with each single gesture the spoiled Fiorilla. I was particularly impressed by the way she sang the recitative that introduces the duet with Geronio, during which she was languidly resting on a sofa, reflected on a large mirror, but at the same time restlessly turning around, kicking her legs and pouting at Geronio. The magic of vocal bravura joint to perfect characterization continued all the way through the opera till the final scene, today one of Devia's warhorses. Of note also the beatiful cadenzas used by the soprano (some written by Philip Gosset but adjusted by Devia herself, others like the variations in the final aria that soar all the way to a high D composed by Rossini himself).  

The other ruler of the stage was without doubt Antoniozzi as the Poeta Prosdocimo. The stage directions by Pier Luigi Pizzi put the Poeta at the center of the dramatic actions, as a sort of puppetmaster who rules all the other characters. Antoniozzi clearly relished on 
this role, jumping, running around, laughing, directing the ensembles with a contagious humoristic energy but without ever allowing all this frenetic activity to interfere with his singing, always perfect and clearly new heir of the great italian tradition of "basso buffo".

The charisma of Devia and Antoniozzi could have obscured the other singers, but that did not happen. Michele Pertusi, more brilliant than ever, brought about a beatifully sung Selim. Bruno Pratico' vocally perfect as Geronio, was an able humoristic counterpart to Antoniozzi (hilarious the little skit in neapolitan dialect by those two that interrupts the opera for a minute). Even Tiziana Carraro as Zaida brought a valuable contribute to the success of the evening. The only painful exception, the british tenor Simon Edwards with his intonation problems and his rude approach to the small coloratura tidbits in the role of Narciso. 


But beyond the contribution of the single singers, what really was more impressive was the team spirit of the whole company. It looked as if the singers on stage were having more fun than the audience. Given that it was the last evening and that Christmas was 3 days away, jokes and improvisations were common. From the moment Selim interpolated "Maramao perche' sei morto" (popular italian children' song) in the final ensemble it was all laughing. Suddendly Christmas decoration appeared everywhere, Selim's turbant became a Santa's hat and Fiorilla found a comet star on her head :) At the end my best memory of this Turco will be this goliardic spirit and the image of six singers having fun with each other. 

A few words on the production. Pizzi set up a black empty stage with a deep track in the middle where some extras dressed in black would push rolling carts which introduced the various singers and some stage props. The idea eventually worked. The costumes were colorful and almost clownesque. The few stage props were beatifully detailed (I recall envying the sofa in Geronio's house). It's too bad that for too long period of times the stage was however left empty. But I think Pizzi did his best job with the staging directions to the singers. I give him some of the credit for the beatiful characterization Devia got out of Fiorilla. 

During curtain calls an enourmous flower basket was brought to Devia and the other singers started singing to her. The occasion was 
her 25th carreer anniversary. Congratulations indeed!

Backstage I met Antoniozzi after months of electronic correspondence. He is an extremely funny guy even outside the stage. And then I went to meet for the first time Mme.Devia. You will have to forgive me but I was in such a confusional state that I remember very little of what we talked about :)

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