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July 12, 2010

Weekend in Review (Part 1): Wolf Trap Opera's 'Il Turco in Italia'

Rossini has a friend in Wolf Trap Opera. I fondly recall a clever, funny, vobrantly sung production the company gave of the composer's "L'Italiana in Algeri" ("The Italian Girl in Algiers") some years ago. Now comes a similarly inventive staging of Rossini's flip side view of clashing cultures, "Il Turco in Italia" ("The Turk in Italy").

The latter, directed with panache and some cheeky PG-13 shtick by Gregory Keller and featuring a vivid look from Erhard Rom (scenery) and Alejo Vietti (costumes), has the characters living "La Dolce Vita." The opera's story, with its messy collision of egos and hormones, makes quite a smooth transition to the 1960s world of Fellini, and the company has assembled a cast capable of truly running with the concept.

Friday's opening night offered a good deal of vocal flair to match the theatrical one (Wolf Trap Opera has a terrific track record of finding budding young professionals who can truly act, especially in comic works). Michael Sumuel, a very promising bass-baritone, gave

a robust performance in the role of Selim, the Turkish nobleman who lands in Naples and finds himself in trouble over two women -- Fiorilla, a vivacious and married Italian; and Zaida, an escapee from Turkey, where she had loved Selim and had been condemned to death by him. (It's all perfectly normal for an opera plot.)

Angela Mannino's light, agile soprano fit Fiorilla's music like a glove. There are more colors and inflections possible in this music (see Callas, Maria), but this was very effective vocalism just the same. Michael Anthony McGee, as Fiorilla's unhappy husband Geronio, revealed a sturdy baritone capable of considerable warmth and subtlety. In the role of Narcisco, Fiorilla's agitated lover, David Portillo used his warm and flexible tenor to elegant effect. A few shaky top notes took away little from what was his stylish delivery. Catherine Martin (Zaida) and Nathaniel Peake (Zaida's pal Albazar) made dynamic contributions.

The show-stealer was Chad Sloan in the role of the writer Prosdocimo -- here given a bit of Mastroianni treatment -- whose attempt to find fresh subject matter for a comic work pushes the opera's plot along. Sloan molded his bright baritone to extract the gold in Rossini's music, and he handled the theatrical side of the assignment with considerable charm.

The chorus of Wolf Trap Opera Studio participants rose to the occasion, as did the orchestra. Conductor Eric Melear kept the score bubbling, bouncing and bounding along neatly.

There's one more performance left -- Tuesday evening.


Posted by Tim Smith at 6:37 AM | | Comments (2)


Thanks, Tim. We can always count on you to cover the Virginia Opera Scene!

What a relief! Your review is much more like the opera I saw than the rather sour comments by the Post's reviewer. I hope we will see more of Portillo and McGee.

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About Tim Smith
Born and raised in Washington, D.C., I couldn't help but develop a keen interest in politics, but music, theater and visual art also proved great attractions. Music became my main focus after high school. I thought about being a cocktail pianist, but I hated taking requests, so I studied music history instead, earning a B.A. in that field from Eisenhower College (Seneca Falls, N.Y.) and an M.A. from Occidental College (Los Angeles). I then landed in journalism. After freelancing for the Washington Post and others, I was classical music critic for the Sun-Sentinel in South Florida, where I also contributed to NPR. I've written for the New York Times, BBC Music Magazine and other publications, and I'm a longtime contributor to Opera News. My book, The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Classical Music (Perigee, 2002), can be found on the most discerning remainder racks.

I joined the Baltimore Sun as classical music critic in 2000 and, in 2009, also became theater critic, giving me the opportunity to annoy a whole new audience. In 2010, my original Clef Notes blog expanded to encompass a theatrical component -- how could I resist calling it Drama Queens? I hope you'll find both sides of this blog coin worth exploring and reacting to; your own comments are always welcome and valued (well, most of them, at least).

Think of this as your open-all-hours, cyber green room, where there's always a performer or performance to discuss, some news to digest, or maybe just a little good gossip to share.
Note: Tim Smith now writes about the fine arts at This blog will be kept in place as an archive for an indefinite period. Please visit the new location to get the latest Mid-Atlantic arts coverage.
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