Garsington 2011 goes East – Il Turco in Italia at the Wormsley Estate

13/06/2011

Rossini, Il Turco in Italia: Soloists, Garsington Opera Orchestra and Chorus/ David Parry (conductor),  Garsington at the Wormsely Estate.6.6.2011 (TGI)

Cast

Fiorilla – Rebecca Nelsen
Selim –
Quirijn de Lang
Geronio –
Geoffrey Dolton
Poeta –
Mark Stone
Narciso –
David Alegret
Zaida –
Victoria Simmonds
Albazar –
Nicholas Sharratt

Production

Conductor – David Parry
Director –
Martin Duncan
Designer –
Francis O’Connor
Lighting Designer –
Bruno Poet
Movement
– Nick Winston

The 2011 season is supported by Jefferies

Editors’ Note: Our usual Rossini specialist was scheduled to review this production but was unable to do so at the last minute. Fortunately, two members of the audience were fairly easily dragooned into acting as volunteer substitutes. The editors are very grateful to them both.

Production Picture © Mike Hoban

Garsington Opera has moved to Wormsley, a few miles down the M40 towards London and, at first sight, a world away from the intimacy of its original setting. At Wormsley the new theatre is set above rolling parkland and within view of the Gettys’ country home. The pavilion-style auditorium is light and impressive, constructed on the advice of a good shipchandler  to judge by the steel hawsers; the list of items that make it ‘fit for purpose’ will include its deconstruction and eventual resurrection for each season; we hope the organizers post a time-lapse video of this exciting event on their website. For the audience, there are better sightlines in the pavilion and more legroom.

Two things that we missed from Garsington: the blue boat box office and the chauffeurs’ tent with its TV for important football matches. Instead there is grand scenery at Wormsley, fallow deer browse on the far side of the lake and the parklands would content Lady Catherine de Burgh; the new garden already shows the flair of the Garsington gardener, Hannah Gardner, who has set to work on creating another flower-filled setting for entrances and exits. And it is peaceful at Wormsley, there was nothing to disturb the performance apart from the chatter of roosting birds who took a lively interest towards the end of Act 1.

Did the opera live up to the new venue? Il Turco in Italia is perfect country house fair, opera buffa with a grand finale to keep us awake after a good dinner. The opera is rarely performed and consequently the audience does not measure the evening’s work against their prior knowledge of world class performances, which was the case for the Magic Flute on the first Saturday. The music of Il Turco is not world class, and neither were the musical performances but they were better than good-enough. Over the last few years Garsington has succeeded with inventive sets and excellent choreography – The Rake’s Progress and A Midsummer Night’s Dream were productions that knocked spots off their recent London counterparts. For Il Turco, we came prepared for a baroque romp reset in nineteen-fifties Naples and the result was everything we hoped for; Rex Harrison would have been proud of the timing.

The evening begins with a writer of  a comic opera in search of a story. The poet Prosdocimo takes inspiration from a fortune telling for Don Geronio and we quickly learn that a wronged husband is not an object of sympathy in Rossini’s world. Prosdocimo, Don Geronio and Zaida (played by Mark Stone, Geoffrey Dolton and Victoria Simmonds respectively) gave strong performances but the star of the show was still to arrive. Not the Turk’s yacht, although its appearance was impressive, not even the Turk, played by Quirijn de Lang, who had a lovely deep voice and showed all the physical confidence of a rich man looking for Love, albeit in multiplicity.

The star of the evening was the wonderfully assured performance of Rebecca Nelsen as Fiorilla, wife of Don Geronio, and a strong contender to be the best tart in operatic history. The final character to be introduced was her lover, Don Narciso, who acted brilliantly and one could see why he was cast; the role requires a traditional Italianate tenor especially for his two solo arias although, like many traditional Italian tenors, he had a slightly strained timbre.

The six main characters work exceptionally well as a team, each lending support at the right juncture and keeping to the fast pace set by the excellent orchestra. The chorus produced a glorious riot of music throughout and were quick change artists, smoothly switching from gypsies to sailors to tourists at the masked ball. And then there were the whimsical visual effects we come to expect from Garsington; at least one of us fell for the polar bear with a rose in his teeth.

Advice for those coming to Wormsley for the first time – all that space around the auditorium means we can no longer huddle together for warmth and shawls, even picnic rugs, are being worn this season. Leave the Louboutins at home and bring sensible shoes for the walk back to the car park, which is at its most magical when the mist rises from the lake and giant candles light your way home.

The Garsington Irregulars

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