It is rare to find an opera that has been composed on two variant librettos, and written by three reputable opera experts at different times. Perhaps this is what sets apart Rossini’s opera from the rest. Il Turco in Italia is an Italian version, which was the original, of the masterpiece opera, The Turk in Italy in English. This two-act opera was composed by Gioacchino Rossini on an Italian libretto re-worked on by Felice Romani from the one first written by Caterino Mazzolà. Rossini’s opera was largely set on a script of an opera going by the same title which was composed by Franz Seydelmann, the German composer, back in 1788.
This dynamic opera derived some distinct features from Mozart’s Così fan tutte. Così fan tutte was actually being performed just before Rossini’s opera was premiered. Nonetheless, despite the great influence of many artists, II Turco in Italia was the signature style of Rossini’s work, the harmonized overture. This strange inclusion perfected the opera and although it has not been prominently recorded, it became one of the most resonating characteristic styles of Gioacchino Rossini. Again, Rossini factored in a very unusually long introduction, distinct displays and an extended melancholic horn solo. The horn solo was simultaneously flagged by a full orchestral accompaniment just before it gave way to the most lively and purely comic theme of all time.
At the heart of II Turco in Italia is a comic opera, sifted the Italian way of an opera buffo. He composed it to completion in 1814, and released it for performance in the same year. The premiere performance of the opera was on 14th August 1814, at La Scala, Milan, one of the highest ranking opera theaters in Italy. In the final analysis, II Turco in Italia stands as the best and most tenderly crafted of Rossini’s operas. Indeed, it was an inspired art born when Rossini was at his comic opera best, as amusing scores perpetually show even today. Largely an ensemble comic opera, it enriches voice with harmonious madcap motion though the composer steps back frequently to create moments of majestic beauty and comical sensitivity.
The setting of the story is in a holiday resort in Naples, Italy and Don Geronio’s house. The main characters were Selim the Turkish prince in bass, Fiorilli the wife of Geronio in a flighty soprano, Geronio the husband of Fiorilla in bass, Narciso who was Fiorilla’s past lover in tenor, Prosdocimo a poet in bass, and Zaida the Gypsy and a former lover of Selim in soprano. The mixed chorus featured Gypsy males and females, friends of Fiorilla, several Turks and maskers. The instrumentation included two flutes, piccolos, oboes, trumpets, bassoons, horns; one trombone, Timpani, Bass Drum and Continuo. The entire performance time was set at a maximum of two hours, two hours of unfettered fun.
On 19th May 1814, II Turco in Italia was performed at His Majesty’s Theatre, London. It however took 12 good years for the comic opera to cross over the Atlantic. The Turk in Italy was premiered in New York on 14th March 1826 at Park Theatre. The lead cast during the New York performance included Malibran, Barbieri, Manuel García Junior, Manuel García Senior, Rosich, Crivelli, and Agrisani.
The plot begins with a gypsy outside a camp in Naples and Zaida the Turk thinking of Selim, her estranged fiancé. Prosdocimo, a poet, comes to Naples seeking for inspiration to write a new comedy about Don Geronio and his wife, Fiorilla. Geronio is seeking a gypsy to foretell his wife’s future and whether he can transform her. At that time, Zaida docks his boat and sees Fiorilla with whom they begin flirting. This later ensues to a quarrel between Zaida, Geronio and Narciso, over the lovers, as Prosdocimo writes on a note book.
In act two, Selim tries to buy Fiorilla from Geronio, but Geronio refuses. Hence, Fiorilla asks Selim, Zaida, and herself and when he hesitates, Zaida storms out. Selim chooses Fiorilla and decides to abduct her since refused to trade. Later on Zaida and Narciso arrive at an evening ball dressed identically as Fiorilla and Selim. Confusion results with two Selims and two Fiorillas. Selim finally leaves with Zaida for Italy while Fiorilla mourns Selim’s departure coupled by Geronio’s wish for a divorce. She repents and Geronio reunites with her as Prosdocimo finishes his research and goes off to write the comedy. The laughter does not stop until the second act is over and curtain falls. Such is the masterpiece Gioacchino Rossini composed.