Il turco in Italia - Synopsis

Il turco in Italia: Nino Machaidze, Chor der Bayerischen Staatsoper Il turco in Italia: Nino Machaidze, Ildebrando D'Arcangelo Il turco in Italia: Ensemble und Chor

Il turco in Italia

Gioachino Rossini
Felice Romani


Act One

The story is set in and around Naples

Prosdocimo, a poet, has been commissioned to write the libretto for a comic opera but is still searching for inspiration for an exciting piece. When he observes a group of gipsies arriving, he decides to open his opera with a gipsy chorus and discard his original idea to write a piece about his friend Don Geronio, his young, capricious wife Fiorilla and her lover Don Narciso.
As luck would have it, however, the aforementioned Don Geronio, in despair because of his wife’s flighty behaviour, comes to the gipsy camp to have his palm read. Zaida, a young gipsy girl, and her friends see through his story and mock the cuckolded husband.
The poet, who has been watching all the time, becomes increasingly interested in Zaida and learns from her that she was once the favourite of a Turkish prince. Her master, however, had sentenced her to death in a fit of jealousy, and since then she has been living among the gipsies, unrecognized, accompanied only by her faithful Albazar. The poet promises Zaida that she will return to her prince.

Meanwhile, Fiorilla is carefully observing the arrival of a wealthy Turk in Naples harbour; he wants to find out what life is like in Italy. The two very quickly make contact with each other.
Fiorilla’s husband and Narciso, in the guise of a family friend, discuss with the poet what can be done about the threat posed by the Turk. In the course of this conversation, the poet learns that Fiorilla’s latest acquaintance is one Selim Damelec – the selfsame former lover of Zaida. The poet now realizes that he has discovered the perfect theme for his comedy. Geronio and Narciso put up a fight against being exploited as characters in a comic opera.

Fiorilla has already invited the Turk to her house to prepare Italian coffee for him. Don Geronio, stirred into action by the equally jealous Don Narciso, appears on the scene, but is urged by his wife to behave politely and generously. Selim is amazed at the ways of Italian husbands and their wives. He uses the general confusion to make an assignation with Fiorilla for that night at the harbour. Fiorilla seems to have decided suddenly to run away with the Turk.

Alone with his wife again, Don Geronio tries to take her to task and forbids her to invite Turks and Italians to their home. But Fiorilla is quickly able to put her husband in a romantic mood and then reproaches him vehemently, claiming he has treated her unfairly. Don Geronio is helpless.

The poet, who has unfortunately missed the arrival of the Turk as well as the latter’s visit to Fiorilla, is still following Zaida. Fortunately for the poet, Selim, who is planning to elope with Fiorilla, meets Zaida at the harbour at night and recognizes her as his former lover. Old feelings are quickly revived. Fiorilla, however, prepared to elope to a new life far away from Europe, surprises the couple and feels betrayed. Both women insist that they have the right to Selim and a loud quarrel ensues, which all the gentlemen present are unable to stop. The poet is delighted. He could not wish for a better ending to the first act of a comic opera.

Act Two

Selim has made up his mind. He wants to take Fiorilla back to Turkey with him; why should her husband not follow Turkish custom and sell her to him. Don Geronio, actively supported by the poet, is horrified and challenges Selim to a duel.

The poet is worried that it is taking a long time to find a solution to the conflict. A second confrontation between the two women, initiated by Fiorilla, also fails to bring about a decision. Quite the contrary, bidden to choose between them, Selim again wavers, cannot make up his mind. Fiorilla and Selim, both already with very hurt feelings and disappointed in their expectations, are very tense but still fall into each other’s arms again to make plans for their elopement. The impending masked ball will provide a favourable setting for their plan.

The poet now arranges for Zaida and Don Geronio to appear at the ball in the same disguise as Fiorilla and Selim in order to hinder their plan to elope. Don Narciso, who has overhead the plans for the secret tryst, also decides to turn up at the ball dressed like the Turk. At the ball, Selim now mistakes Zaida for Fiorilla and Fiorilla, for her part, thinks Don Narciso is Selim. Don Geronio, also dressed as a Turk, does not know which couple to watch. All the people at the ball laugh at the desperate, jealous husband.
The confusion at the ball has finally resulted in a reconciliation between Zaida and Selim. The poet can now prepare for the final intrigue. Knowing that Selim is no longer a threat, he persuades Don Geronio to threaten his wife with divorce and all its consequences. Suddenly Fiorilla feels cheated and deserted by all men. Now the poet has achieved what he wanted: Fiorilla regrets what she has done and nothing more stands in the way of a moral ending. Don Geronio and Fiorilla are also reconciled, even the lover, Don Narciso, promises to remain nothing but a friend, and all concerned seem to have learned from experience and are determined to renounce any risky adventures that life might offer in future.

Christof Loy

© Bavarian State Opera