The Turk in Italy (Sydney Opera House)

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And now, a change of pace.

After three brooding operas this cold Sydney winter – a staid Lucia Di Lammermoor, a sombre Rigoletto and a dazzlingly dark Aida – levity arrives in the form of one of Gioachino Rossini’s least remembered operas.

The Turk In Italy is little performed for some good reasons. But this thoroughly aerated 2014 production, whisked with dexterity by director Simon Phillips, is a gooey soufflé of music theatre that will leave seasoned opera-goers with a pleasant aftertaste on the 2018 Opera Australia program.

Phillips, in the top few really great Australian stage directors, deserves much of the credit. With its lithe, lilting, if forgettable, score (conducted here with a lightness of touch by Andrea Molino), and 18th century romcom story, his production leans into the farce. And under revival director Andy Morton, little of the effervescence has escaped the bottle.

We’re talking genuine belly-laughs, with its carefully choreographed pratfalls and hilariously okker libretto translations. Plus a cast game enough to move their feet to the offbeats. And how many operas, even the comedies, can you say that about?

Tremendous credit, too, to Phillips’ designer-of-choice Gabriela Tylesova, who has created the prettiest pop-up set and boldly coloured costumes to capture 1950s seaside Naples (updated from the original 1800s setting) on a wonderfully whimsical slant.

The curtain is up on entering the Joan Sutherland Theatre and the overture is a silent film of cossie-corseted dames settling onto the sand and a following parade of hapless blokes struggling to construct the beach chairs. Phillips makes every moment on stage count, with even the chorus in on the jokes.

Unusually, only the titular Turk (Selim) has been imported for this near-all-Aussie cast, and it’s a wise and welcome choice. Paolo Bordogna has been called the funniest man in Italian opera and I’m not about to argue. His brassy baritone instrument is world-class, but it’s that rubbery face and spritely physicality that makes this performance such a treat.

And paired with Australia’s best buffo in Warwick Fyfe (Geronio), we get a joyfully clowning duet of baritone singing in the second act as love rivals battle for the affections of wandering Fiorilla. It’s the highlight of the evening.

As Fiorilla, Stacey Alleaume bows last for one of the first times in her career. Now a reliable soprano for the company, she lacked some crispness in her runs but compensates with brightness in tone and playfulness in performance that made her more than a match for the men. She remains one to watch, on stages here and overseas.

Virgilio Marino also takes a step up for the national company with his role as the fourth corner of the love pentagon, Narciso. He wasn’t overawed by the occasion. As the scheming poet Prosdocimo, Samuel Dundas, now a veteran of Opera Australia, seemed a little underpowered vocally in this ensemble but his tone was true and his acting performance terrific.

Anna Dowsley, as Selim’s gypsy love Zadia, has a fine mezzo voice and was a plucky presence in a smaller role. Trusty tenor Graeme Macfarlane completes the principal cast as Albazar. (Nicholas Jones plays the role for performances on August 23 and 25.)

It’s the sunniest ensemble this side of the Mediterranean Sea. Which is just the sort of winter warmer you may need.

The Turk In Italy plays the Joan Sutherland Theatre, Sydney Opera House until September 1.

The Opera Australia Chorus in Opera Australia’s 2018 production of The Turk in Italy at the Sydney Opera House. Photo credit: Keith Saunders

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