David Alden’s 2008 staging of Rossini’s Il Turco in Italia has become infamous out of Berlin as one tough regiequiz at parterre.com. Although guesses ranged from Johnny spielt auf to Salome, the truth is that the production is far less bizarre when seen live at the theatre. Without reading the program book, one easily recognizes the Fellinian atmosphere with its intentional splashes of kitsch from the 50’s. In this sense, Alden may be occasionally unfaithful to the libretto, but he is true to the spirit of Italian comedy. At any rate, the show is definitely fun – and the excellent level of acting from every member of the cast is its shining feature. One would even forgive therefore the less than ideal musical aspects this evening.
Conductor Riccardo Frizza never let pace sag, keeping excitement on during the whole evening, but the Staatskapelle Berlin’s hearty sonorities, beautiful as they are, may be too substantial for Rossini. Although the cast is far from modest in vocal heft, these singers often had to make an extra effort to pierce through the almost Beethovenian dense sounds that came from the pit.
In the key role of Fiorilla, Alexandrina Pendatchanska finally sounded convincing for the wrong reasons. Because of the shrill, curdled and unequal vocal production, no-one had any trouble to understand that she was playing the role of the shrew. She does have prima donna quality – breathtaking coloratura, a strong top register and personality to spare. However, I did not recognize hardly any bel canto quality in her performance – her diction is unclear, her legato is problematic and she seems to be incapable of producing a pure, clean cantabile line. She also tended to disappear in ensembles, what is curious for a high soprano. This is a singer who has been closely followed by many of us who saw an immense promise in her, but this promise has been taking a very long time to be fulfilled. In comparison, Katharina Kammerloher’s fruity high mezzo soprano sounded heavenly in the role of Zaida.
South African tenor Colin Lee offered a truly gracious performance as Don Narciso. He was probably the less gifted actor in the cast and that might explain the somewhat lukewarm applause, but one must acknowledge the pleasant tonal quality, the good taste, stylishness and solid technique. However, in a world where there are singers like Juan Diego Flórez and Lawrence Brownlee, one gets spoiled by more vocal exuberance, especially in high notes. I know many tenors tend to go for bel canto because of less competition and higher fees, but, considering the dire situation in Mozartian repertoire, Lee should give Tamino, Ferrando and Belmonte a second chance. Giovanni Furlanetto’s dark, forceful bass does have the right colour and size for Selim, but he is really tested by the fioriture. Almost every melisma was given the staccato treatment and, if the audience did not find fault in it, it is because he disguised that in the comedy-effect treatment. Alfredo Daza was an animated Prodoscimo, but his singing is so heavy that one felt fatigued just from hearing it. Among the basses, Andrea Concetti had the most spontaneous vocal quality, but his idea of singing buffo repertoire seems to be supporting only the high notes and being free about pitch.
When I read what I have written here, I feel that I might have given an overall negative impression. But that is not the case – this is the kind of performance in which the whole is more than the individual parts: the staging is genuinely funny and intelligent, everyone in the audience seemed to be having fun, the acting was truly admirable (Florian Hoffman’s Albazar was one of the best small-role stage performances I have ever seen) and singers had engaging personality and interesting voices.