Cher Public

To the vixen belongs the spa

In 1813, Rossini produced his first two mega-hits, an opera seria, Tancredi, and an opera buffa, L’Italiana in Algeri, which (a friend informed me tonight) premiered the very day Richard Wagner was born in Leipzig. (Unaccountably, newspapers in Venice failed to mention this at the time.) Producers, naturally, were howling for more, and the 21-year-old composer, stumped for a subject (rather like the Poet in the opera he wrote), suffered a bout of sequel-osis. Il Turco in Italia appeared the year after L’Italiana and was not a hit. In 1816, he came up with Il Barbiere di Siviglia.

A production as delectable as the current one (through Sunday) at the Juilliard Opera will make you wonder why Il Turco is not as well known as L’Italiana, Il Barbiere, La Cenerentola, even the odd and occasional Il Viaggio a Rheims. The tunes are quite as attractive, the characters as memorable. The answer may be that the best-known of Rossini’s comedies are simple fairy tales: Tenor meets girl (or girl tracks down tenor) and together they outwit the bassos. It’s easy to pick sides!

Il Turco isn’t like that at all: It’s a modern sort of story, with a Pirandellian conceit in that a poet (Prosdocimo—is that a name?) seeks inspiration and continually comments on, and interferes with, the action. His motives are theatrical, which is to say, innately unethical. An Italian lady, Fiorilla, is bored with both her old husband (Don Geronio) and her young lover (Don Narciso). She craves adventure, and is thrilled when a genuine Turk (Selim) appears and falls for her charms.

But Selim is on the rebound from a certain Zaida, and she shows up, too, to Fiorilla’s annoyance. Selim is a great believer in divorce and, for that matter, polygamy, while Geronio believes in beating up his wife’s lover, except there are so many of them. The 11 o’clock number goes to Fiorilla, sincerely ashamed of herself, though not very. Everyone pairs or threes off and goes home. The poet has his play.

The Juilliard production at the Peter Jay Sharp Theater has been attractively staged by John Giampietro in an Italian spa around the time of Fellini’s (which, if I recall correctly, has Rossini on the soundtrack during a spa sequence). Zaida, instead of a Gypsy fortune teller, is a spa mystic who “reads auras” for the customers. Fiorilla is decked in skirts and hats of the Jackie O era.

The Juilliard cast are talented musicians and enthusiastic stage actors but rather immature vocally, though they have no trouble filling this jewel-box of a theater. Special kudos are due to whoever coaches Italian diction at Juilliard: The singers all have tongue-twisting Rossini patter to get through, and each of them could be clearly understood.

The singing was of a high standard, with some allowance for opening night jitters. The star was Hyesang Park as Fiorilla, a slim and pretty soprano with an even, beautifully produced sound even when reaching high above the staff and elegant swift-paced ornaments, besides an alluring, plaintive line for her great cavatina. She is also a natural actress and a convincing flirt, with a winsome pout and terrific legs. Kara Sainz, as her rival, Zaida, had a pleasing mezzo but a great deal less to do.

Michael Sumuel, who played the titular Turk imposingly, produced a dry sound in the first act but warmed up in the second for his combative duet with Geronio. He has the rapid-fire baritone for Rossini, but must develop more depth and authority to his sound. Daniel Miroslaw sang the cuckolded Geronio.

His acting instincts for this figure of fun are decent (the production placed him on a massage table while Fiorilla “mounted” him, singing all the while), but his light bass lacks center-stage personality. Geronio is a “character” role for a great basso buffo, and the best of the breed triumphed in it in Rossini’s day; he is not very effective if the singer lacks character, and Miroslaw may simply be too young for it.

Baritone Szymon Komasa sang the poet-playwright with graceful authority, and one wished he had something more lyrical to sing. Joseph Dennis sang Fiorilla’s cicisbeo, Narciso, in an attractive, liquid tenor that aroused great enthusiasm, but his voice, too, could do with some aging and solidifying.

Tenor Nathan Haller sang Albazar, the “sherbet” role, Zaida’s sassy gay BFF in this production, and his light but pretty voice was not quite secure. All these singers will probably gain security in the course of the run, but their performances are highly enjoyable to start with.

The conductor, Speranza Scappucci, led the Juilliard Orchestra in a lively, swift-paced and gently uproarious performance. She has wit and pace and comic timing. None of Rossini’s musical jokes fell flat and none of them overstayed their welcome.

Photo: Ken Howard

  • almavivante

    Although I am very put out that I cannot attend this weekend (I remember so fondly City Opera’s production, and have often wondered why they never revived it), I must say that the name Speranza Scappucci is an absolute keeper! Rossini himself (or his librettists)could not have come up with better.

  • lorenzo.venezia

    yes, Fellini uses the overture to Barber of Seville, which Marcello whistles with the neat little knee trick.

  • Ok I won the lotto for tonight;s Boheme. Anyone want to go? Please email me at growsonwalls at gmail dot com.

    • SF Guy

      Ivy--I see that your blog is down at the moment. Will it be back soon? (I loved those archival scenes from Flames of Paris.)

      • I decided to delete my blog after a realization that blogging made me vain and narcissistic and exactly the kind of person I hate on social media.

        • Plus, my relatives found it. That’s just wrong.

          • SF Guy

            The Wall of Text will be missed! (Do reconsider--vanity and narcissism have their good points, and I gave caring what my relatives think ages ago, for far more incriminating reasons.)

        • damekenneth

          I disagree. Your blog was charming, quirky and perceptive. You always showed great respect for the subject you were writing about, which reduced any risk of its being simply a narcissistic, “look at me,” endeavor.

          • Well thanks but the point is moot because I’ve deleted it for good. I can’t undelete it now that my parents saw it.

            Meanwhile, Boheme anyone?

            • Gualtier M

              Ivy certain bloggers are vain, narcissistic and self-serving -- others are not. Reconsider.

              Meanwhile, ask your parents what they thought of your blog -- you may be surprised at their answer.

            • peter

              Ivy, I loved reading your blog as I am a ballet fan as well as an opera fan. I love the informal style of your reviews and your playful and witty way with words. I hope you revive it at some point. In the meantime, I look forward to reading your reviews on Parterre.

        • laddie

          Ivy, It’s lovely to see so much support for your blog; indeed, your style is completely unique and very enjoyable to read. I do, however, want to say something a little different here, and that is as hard a decision as that must have been, I am sure you know what you are doing with your life, and I hope that it pays off for you in all your future endeavors. Please don’t ever leave Parterre. :)

  • Milady DeWinter

    You’re certainly sweet (and lucky!) to offer, Ivy -- wish I could -- Yoncheva and Hynmel might be worth yet another trip to that damned garrett!

  • tatiana

    Well at least we still get to read you on Parterre, Ivy. Like the others, I’ll miss your blog, but it’s your decision.
    And I wish I could accept the kind “Boheme” offer too, but I’m committed elsewhere. Enjoy!!

  • Rackon

    Oh no! I loved your blog for your insight on both music and dance! Plus you’re hilarious! It’s not vanity to write about art that moves you. Please reconsider. Maybe a new blog under a non de plume? Where shall I go for the latest on NYCB and Kaufporn?