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In Review > North America

Il Turco in Italia

Juilliard Opera

In Review Juilliard Turco hdl 215
Special brilliance: Park as Fiorilla in Juilliard’s Turco in Italia
© Ken Howard 2015

Conservatory students have one advantage over mature, professional opera stars, and Juilliard Opera’s latest production shrewdly exploits that difference. Director John Giampietro updated Rossini’s comedy Il Turco in Italia to 1960 and — more to the point — set the action in a spa. In place of the original chorus of Gypsies, this staging (seen Nov. 19) fields a manic crew of medics, masseurs and trainers in bright red uniforms. The change opens up ample opportunities for physical action and especially for flirtation, and some of the principals strip down to the briefest of costumes. Big opera companies usually restrict this kind of naturalism to the corps de ballet.

And where Rossini’s florid score is concerned, the Juilliard cast showed off another type of agility. Even when they lacked bel canto beauty of timbre, the singers had the structure down pat. Conductor Speranza Scappucci led a colorful, firm yet flexible performance in which every phrase had a beginning, middle and end — and sometimes an extra fillip. Most of Rossini’s thousands of notes for the singers were present and accounted for; individual notes were also knit together into meaningful, lilting lines.

In the stellar role of Fiorilla, the flirtatious heroine, soprano Hyesang Park sang with special brilliance and flexibility after some initial hardness of tone. A student in the Juilliard Master of Music program, Park has appeared on professional stages in Europe and Korea, and her experience shows. Her solid, refined fioritura delivery was matched by glamour, temperament and, above all, an ability to put bel canto splendor to expressive use. 

In keeping with Giampietro’s no-holds-barred approach, Park succeeded in embracing the character’s opposing extremes of narcissism and vulnerability. The soprano rehabilitated the heroine just in time for a happy ending, thanks to her searing delivery of the soul-searching, repentant solo “Squallida veste, e bruna d’affanno e pentimento.” Her final duet with reconciled husband Geronio, comparing herself to a delicate vine and him to a supporting elm (in Felice Romani’s terse, poetic text), had convincing warmth.

The one non-student in the cast, bass-baritone Michael Sumuel, made a charming Selim, with his combination of swagger and innocence; he invested the Turk’s arpeggios with communicative grace and punch, particularly in the delightfully varied duets opposite Fiorilla or Geronio. Daniel Miroslaw used his rich bass register to vibrant comic effect as the much-abused Geronio, and suave baritone Szymon Komasa shone in the role of the manipulative playwright Prosdocimo, an avatar of Don Alfonso in Mozart’s Così Fan Tutte (one of the influences on Rossini’s Turco). Mezzo Kara Sainz, as Zaida, competed feistily with Fiorilla for the Turk’s affections, while tenors Joseph Dennis (Narciso) and Nathan Haller (Albazar) gave pained, florid testimony to the heroine’s maddening charms.

Sydney Maresca designed the modest costumes, and Derek Wright’s lighting effects added atmosphere to Alexis Distler’s glossy white spa decor. The geometric patterning of the set may have suggested the Middle East more than Naples, but it made an effective arena for antic behavior. spacer 


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