Il turco in Italia, Royal Opera House, London

Nymphomania - the Neapolitan way
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The Independent Culture

With consummate comic timing, Patrice Caurier and Moshe Leiser's new production of Il turco in Italia opened on the eve of the week in which the European Constitution bit the dust. A screwball comedy of serial infidelity and cultural misapprehensions, its heroine is a girl who can't say "No!" to Turkey.

With consummate comic timing, Patrice Caurier and Moshe Leiser's new production of Il turco in Italia opened on the eve of the week in which the European Constitution bit the dust. A screwball comedy of serial infidelity and cultural misapprehensions, its heroine is a girl who can't say "No!" to Turkey.

The setting for Caurier and Leiser's production is the Mediterranean of 1950s commercial art: a three-dimensional Orangina label populated by dashing brigands, libidinous matrons, sultry gypsies, and gullible tourists. The sea is a luxuriant turquoise, the beach banana yellow, the sky a sizzling blue, the sliding panels that frame it tinted in the chemical brights of a cocktail cabinet. At night, a paper moon hangs in an indigo sky. (Crescent shaped, of course.) Yes, it is rather like their production of La Cenerentola. But even if you aren't the type to clap your hands at plastic parasols, stuffed cats, latex biceps, cartoon musclemen, pistachio scooters, corsetted embonpoint and spaghetti fights, it is good to see an opera that sets out to entertain.

Il turco is Rossini at his pomposity-pricking best. It's a girl-meets-Turk-meets-girl's-husband-meets-girl's-lover-meets-Turk's-lover affair: flirtatious, fast-moving, equally mocking of provincial xenophobia and the eroticisation of the exotic, and dependent on the tightest ensemble work on stage and in the pit. On the first count, this production is a triumph. Caurier and Leiser use the chorus well, provide plenty of coups de théâtre to the pound, are happy to wink in collusion with their audience, and have teased a sex-kitten comedienne out of the normally earnest Cecilia Bartoli. Liberated by the curvaceous lines of Agostino Cavalca's costumes, several pairs of killer heels, and a bedroom decorated with a painting of Vesuvius in full flow (one of many cute touches from designer Christian Fenouillat), Bartoli relishes the role of Fiorilla. Her movements are as confident as her coloratura, her singing less mannered than it has been of late, her performance of Squallide veste, e brune sweetly pathetic.

As Selim, Ildebrando D'Arcangelo makes excellent use of his matinée idol looks and suave voice. He's an unselfconscious actor who is happy to send up his own beauty and the ideal foil for Alessandro Corbelli's finicky cuckold Don Geronio (an outstanding performance). Their debate on the relative merits of Turkish and Italian matrimony in Act II is a delight. As Geronio's improbably coiffed co-conspirator Narciso, Barry Banks sings and acts superbly, while Heather Shipp is a seductive, if somewhat grainy-toned, Zaida, and Thomas Allen's wry Prosdocimo a charming narrator. In the pit, Adam Fischer draws some lovely solos from the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House. His overture is pleasantly aerated, and though the ensemble is occasionally unhinged by slapstick stage-business, these glitches should be ironed out easily. A prosecco-perfect production, despite the poorly stretched canvas flats.

a.picard@independent.co.uk

'Il turco in Italia': Royal Opera House, London WC2 (020 7304 4000), to 15 June

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