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8.660183-84 - ROSSINI: Turco in Italia (Il) (The Turk in Italy)

Gioachino Rossini (1792-1868)
Il Turco in Italia

In 1788 the German composer Franz Seydelmann, since 1772 employed at the court in Dresden, made a setting of an Italian libretto by Caterino Mazzolà, Il turco in Italia, following his earlier successful exploration of exoticism in the same librettist’s chinoiserie Il mostro ossia Da gratitudine amore. Mazzolà, who had known both Casanova and Lorenzo Da Ponte in Venice, was appointed court poet in Dresden in 1780, where he was joined for a time by Da Ponte. He collaborated with Salieri in Vienna and in 1791 briefly served there, perhaps meeting Mozart, who may have been influenced in Die Zauberflöte by Mazzolà’s earlier masonic libretto Osiride. It was, in any case, Mazzolà who adapted Metastasio's libretto of La clemenza di Tito for Mozart, a work staged in Prague in September 1791. Constanze Mozart saw Seydelmann's version of Il Turco in Italia in Vienna in 1789, while her husband was away on his journey to Potsdam, and the libretto was in 1794 used by Mozart's pupil Franz Xaver Süssmayr. For Rossini and Milan in 1814 the original libretto was adapted by Felice Romani, who worked for La Scala, Milan, for many years, writing some eighty libretti, generally much praised for their clarity and absence of padding.

The new opera, however, was not particularly well received in Milan, where audiences saw in it only the reverse situation to that in L'Italiana in Algeri. There were, nevertheless, twelve performances, and in 1821 it was revived in Milan, and there were performances in London, and, in the same decade, in New York, where it was given by Manuel Garcia and his company, the stimulus for Da Ponte, in the same city, to embark on further operatic ventures, and in 1827 in Edinburgh. Revivals of the opera in the twentieth century, after neglect of nearly a hundred years, allowed Maria Callas to give a spirited portrayal of the flighty Fiorilla, and the work, without Callas, formed an apt part of the thematic Turkish year at the Edinburgh Festival of 1957, with the visit there of the Piccola Scala.

In Il Turco in Italia Rossini makes considerable use of ensembles of one kind or another, inserting arias, particularly in the second act, for the benefit of the singers. These include a tenor aria for Albazar in the second act that is not by Rossini. Following common practice the recitatives would also have been entrusted to another composer, and it is thought that Geronio's Cavatina and the end of the opera may be the work of the La Scala maestro al cembalo Vincenzo Lavigna, a protégé of Paisiello, whom he idolized, and Verdi's counterpoint teacher. In the witty libretto the poet Prosdocimo serves, like Don Alfonso in Così fan tutte, as a cynical observer of folly, while the flighty Fiorilla grows in character as the plot develops. The final comedy of disguises again suggests Mozart and Da Ponte in their final collaboration.

Keith Anderson

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