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Rossini's Subtle Sequel: 'The Turk In Italy'

In the world of modern movie making, sequels can be seen as a blessing, or a bane — and the line between the two can be a thin one.

In the 1980s, for example, Steven Spielberg, George Lucas and Harrison Ford hit it big with Raiders of the Lost Ark, and with two more Indiana Jones movies after that. On the other hand, many wondered whether the appearance of a more grandfatherly Indy in 2008's Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull might have taken things a bit too far. And what about Sylvester Stallone showing up in Rocky Balboa in 2006, 30 years after the Oscar-winnning original? Was that a good idea?

Still, despite the pitfalls sequels can bring, it's easy to see the appeal — especially in the profit-obsessed world of Hollywood studios. Why pay for a lot of bothersome creative talent to come up with new ideas, when you can take an old premise, tweak it a little and hit the box-office jackpot all over again? Thinking in those terms, the sequel scheme — or scam — makes a lot of sense. And the idea certainly wasn't born in Hollywood.

From Slapstick To Subtlety

In 1814, Gioachino Rossini came up with a comic opera called Il Turco in ItaliaThe Turk in Italy. At the time, Rossini was one of the most popular and prolific opera composers in Europe, and it seemed that everything he wrote immediately turned to gold. But the reaction to The Turk in Italy was decidedly cool.

That's because the year before, Rossini had a smash hit with a comedy called L'Italiana in AlgeriThe Italian Girl in Algiers. The titles of the two operas make it sound like Rossini took the first opera and simply reversed its premise to come up with a new one — and that's basically what he did. So it's no wonder that the ticket-buying public felt a bit shortchanged.

In retrospect, Rossini may have created a new opera out of an old story, taking an artistic shortcut in the process. But he also did something rare in the world of modern-day sequels: He used the recycled premise to create an entirely different sort of work.

The Italian Girl in Algiers is a brilliant comedy, full of sparkling melodies, blockbuster solo arias and strings of slapstick scenes that are laugh-out-loud funny.

The Turk in Italy, on the other hand, has a different set of strengths. Musically, it relies less on arias than on complex ensembles — duets, trios and even a quintet. Dramatically, the opera draws more than its share of laughs. But, like many fine operatic comedies, it also has a slightly disturbing edge. The opera's laughs often come at the expense of its less fortunate characters, who appear confused and emotionally disoriented. Their dilemmas may seem outwardly silly, but the feelings underlying them go beyond comedy to reflect the sense of helplessness that so often accompanies life's bleaker moments.

On World of Opera, host Lisa Simeone brings us a production of Il Turco in Italia from one of Italy's finest regional theaters, the Teatro Carlo Felice in Genoa. It stars bass-baritone Simone Alaimo as Selim, the title character; soprano Myrto Paptanasiu as Fiorilla, the woman who catches his eye; and baritone Bruno de Simone as Geronio, the abandoned husband whose troubles cast a shadow of sadness on the opera's gleaming, comic facade.

See the previous edition of World of Opera or the full archive

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