Rossini Il turco in Italia

Author: 
Richard Osborne

Rossini Il turco in Italia

  • (Il) Turco in Italia

The Poet Prosdocimo writes: “Is it not enough that I cudgelled my brains to concoct for Mr Rossini this charming farrago about my old friend Don Geronio, his shrewish wife and a randy, itinerant Turk? It would appear not. For now I am invited to review (dreadful trade) a quartet of recordings of it.
I concede that I have long been content with a most stylish realization of our opera under the direction of Mr Gavazzeni. It is true that he and the scoundrel Legge took a blue pencil to some of my finest passages of dialogue: not to mention a considerable acreage of music where Milord Legge judged the master (or his assistants: a matter on which I cannot possibly comment) to be at less than his best. Yet I have to concede that this is not Mozart, nor am I Lorenzo da Ponte. Cut away, say I, if it makes the thing a more agreeable listen!
And what casts they had in those far off La Scala days. Where are such characters now? Mme Callas: incomparable in any age. Mr Calabrese, dear old cuckolded Don Geronio to a T. And myself played by the great Mariano Stabile: an unlooked-for honour, indeed.
Leafing through Gramophone’s grand archive, I could not help noting that the paper’s self-styled Rossini ‘expert’ was vaguely welcoming to two later recordings. Apologetic fiddle-faddle! My drama requires intimacy; Mr Chailly’s earlier recording sounds as though it were recorded in a barn. My Fiorilla is a minx, Mme Caballe is a canary. And Sir Marriner’s recording on Philips? I would say that it is nice, very nice. But when was Rossini merely ‘nice’?
And this new recording, is that ‘nice’ too? Assuredly not! It is fiery, subversive and full of passion, running all on impulse, Italian through and through. Our little dramma buffo was written for the La Scala theatre in 1814 and it is not by chance that two such wonderful recordings as this and Mr Gavazzeni’s have been made with Italian musicians: rich, grainy strings, devil-may-care trumpets, impertinent bassoons – need I go on?
Mr Chailly’s genius for the Rossini style has ripened with the years. His performance has daring and velocity, the music stripped for action, yet it is open-hearted and free-spirited: obsessive and funny. Did Rossini really take so much care over his orchestration in this slender diversion? I had not thought so until now.
Mr Chailly’s cast may not be such a cast of characters as Mr Gavazzeni’s. Old Rossi-Lemeni really did sound like the lascivious Turk of my imagining; but his divisions and roulades were more than a touch morbido. Your modern singers can knock spots off that kind of thing. Mr Pertusi’s Selim is as vocally expert as it is theatrically amusing. And Mme Bartoli dazzles here as rarely before. Such vocal brilliance and the words – my words! – so forward and crystal-clear. “Squallida veste bruna!” – an aria you will search for in vain on Mme Callas’s recording – is a tour de force.
Naturally, I am thrilled to hear my recitatives played and accompanied with such flair. They almost sound interesting! So there you have it, my friends: as fine a set of Il turco as you’re likely to get. How’s that for decisive reviewing?”'

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