Boris Goldovsky has taken an old and practically forgotten chestnut, dusted it off, and come up with a modernized, glossified, and immensely entertaining version of Rossini's "The Turk in Italy."
Goldovsky has completely reworked the plot, made a minor character into the operetta's protagonist, and used production devices more familiar in Hollywood than on an opera stage. The music has been orchestrated, but other than that left pretty much alone. The result of these manipulations is an operetta not only delightful to hear, but excellent theater as well.
Rossini's score is not particularly original or inspired, but it is highly tuneful and rhythmic--the kind of thing you whistle for weeks after you've heard it. And after a few precarious measures at the very beginning of the show, the orchestra, under Goldovsky's direction, played with spirit.
The main fault with the "Turk" was not in the performance or the opera itself. It is hardly more than a chamber opera, and in the cavernous wastelands of the Boston Opera House, the small mass of sound produced was pretty well lost. It was hard enough for most of the paying customers to hear the artists, let alone detect any difference subtler than that between a pianissimo and a fortissimo.
All the singers were competent, but Adele Addison as Zaida, the gypsy, was by far the finest. Her voice was wonderfully smooth and clear; she reached even the highest notes without a touch of strain. Only when she was singing was Goldovsky's English translation completely intelligible.
But Francis Barnard, the poet, and David Lloyd who played Narciso, the lover, were also very fine. Marshall Heinbaugh, as Selim the Turk, was the only principal really beyond his element. It may have been the beard encircling his face, but every sound he made was so mufiled that the stage seemed three times further off than the one block it actually was.
Singing was best during the many duets and quartets. Particularly well done was one a cappella quartet in the second act, which at all times was in perfect pitch, with each voice delicately balanced.
The translation was on the whole well done and with no more farce than the music implied, but one of the poet's lines--"the unbelievable I do immediately, the impossible takes a little longer"--did seem a little too modernized.
"The Turk in Italy" is an excellent illustration of Mr. Goldovsky's thesis that good opera must also be good theater. It will be interesting to see how successful he will be with his next production--the better-known Carmen.