Written in 1814, Il Turco in Italia has always lived in the second rank of Rossini's comic operas. A follow-up to his wildly popular L'Italiana in Algeri, the opera bombed at its Rome premiere, and was rarely performed until 1954. Then, it was rediscovered by Maria Callas, who realized that the role of Fiorilla was perfectly suited to her voice. This live DVD from the Teatro Carlo Felice in Genoa preserves a "classic-style" Rossini staging, which was originally presented in 1983 to celebrate the composer's 100th birthday.
In fact, although this is a Rossini comedy, Turco is more of a dramma giocoso, a serious opera about love and marriage that has its comic moments. The titular Turk arrives in Italy looking for a new bride for his harem. He is torn between Zaide, a gypsy woman who was once part of his harem, and Fiorilla, a married woman who is the romantic focus of no less than three men: Selim, her husband Don Geronio, and Narciso, the ardent tenor. Eventually, she reunites with her husband, Zaide sails off with the Turk, and everyone is happy. But Rossini was also an expert at writing tragic opera too, and his attempts to fuse the two styles here make this a unique opera.
The proceedings are dominated by Simone Alaimo, a veteran bass with much experience in the comic operas of Rossini. As Selim, the title character, Alaimo manages to combine heartbreak and nobility. He sings the virtuoso arias--most of them in classic patter style, with precise diction and flair, racing up and down through the figures with ease. He is well complemented by Bruno di Simone as Don Geronio, and their duet in the second act is a highlight.
Myrtò Papatansiu takes Fiorilla (the Callas role) and does very well with it. Her Act II aria, "Squallida, veste e bruna" belongs in a tragic opera and reflects her real dilemma of being emotionally torn between three men. Antonella Nappa makes the most of the smaller role of Zaida. As Narciso, tenor Antonio Siragusa is a throwback to the old-fashioned tenors of the 19th century, singing with his head voice and using his instrument like a silver rapier. Jonathan Webb does a competent job in the pit, leading a traditional Rossini-sized orchestra. The overture, with its long solo played on what looked like an antique valved horn, is excellent.