The Turk in Italy synopsis (ENO’s 2002 production)
Music by Gioachino Rossini
Libretto by Felice Romani
First performed: 1814
Rome, Cinecittà film studios, 1961, on the set of the forthcoming blockbuster Italia!
Things are going very badly on the set of Italia!. The Director, Prosdocimo, is having a creative crisis; his PA, Albazar, is nagging him for script pages, the screen diva Fiorilla (his ex-mistress) is having tantrums and her elderly husband Don Geronio (the producer) fears for the film’s future. On the verge of a nervous breakdown, the Director checks into a sanitorium, where he is looked after by Zaida who, it transpires, has ambitions to be a screen actress herself. She is unrequitedly in love with the great Turkish film star Selim, and wonders whether breaking into pictures might increase her chances of encountering him.
Geronio is in despair over Fiorilla’s erratic mood-swings. He asks Zaida for astrological advice but she mocks him for his wife’s infidelity. The Director is greatly taken with Zaida and decides that she could well be his new muse. He also decides that Selim must appear in his film.
Fiorilla is delighted that filming has recommenced. When Selim arrives on set, she relishes the prospect of another romantic liaison. Selim is happy to oblige. This is exactly what the Director had anticipated but it upsets not only Geronio, who feels that the Director is using his private affairs as raw material, but also Narciso, who has until now been the film’s leading man.
Fiorilla and Selim are getting along famously over a cup of coffee but are interrupted by Narciso and Geronio, on whom, in the heat of the moment, Selim pulls a knife. Fiorilla manages to calm the situation down and indeed persuades Geronio to kiss Selim in the Italian fashion. The Director pretends to commiserate with Geronio but is in fact thrilled with the dramatic material that he is unwittingly providing for the film. He is amused to see how Fiorilla manipulates her cuckolded husband to take the blame for the entire situation.
Left alone, the Director plans his masterstroke: the introduction of his new protegée, Zaida, to her screen hero Selim. The unfortunate Narciso finds himself in the wrong film. The situation comes to a climax as the two leading ladies arrive on set simultaneously.
Geronio is attempting to relax. He unburdens to the Director, who discreetly withdraws when Selim joins them. Selim proposes to take Fiorilla off Geronio’s hands, but an outraged Geronio reacts angrily. Things look ugly until the Director intervenes. Fiorilla arrives on set for her next scene with Selim. When Zaida turns up, in costume for the same rehearsal, Selim is challenged to make a choice between them. He is unable to decide and Zaida retires hurt, leaving Fiorilla in uneasy possession of the field. She and Selim resolve to run away together.
The Director, sensing matters spinning out of his control, attempts to devise a final scene for his film. It will be a harem scene in which he will sabotage Fiorilla’s plans by dressing her and Zaida identically and by disguising Geronio as Selim. Unfortunately he is overheard by Narciso, who also decides to dress up as Selim, and by Albazar, who, outraged at the Director’s cavalier treatment of Zaida, re-types the script so that she will emerge as the winner.
Confusion reigns. Eventually the right lovers head off into the sunset; the Director gets his own reward; only Narciso is left out in the cold. Fiorilla turns humiliation into triumph by producing a performance worthy of the great screen diva that she truly is . . .
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