However, Rossini’s The Turk in Italy couldn’t be further from this notion.
This riotous comedy is made even more unique and unconventional under the direction of Simon Phillips, who has set his production in a 1950s Italian seaside town, drawing on film culture for the period.
The flirtations and furies of this little seaside Italian town are boring a local poet, but things heat up when a handsome Turkish prince arrives in town and inspires a romantic comedy with all the ingredients for success: love, jealousy and mistaken identities.
“It’s just about as much fun as you can have in an opera house,” Phillips said, and the critics agreed.
Showing at the Sydney Opera House from August 10 to September 1, Phillips’ frivolous production features a cracking team of comic talents, including Italian baritone Paolo Bordogna in his side-splitting performance as the Turk.
Bordogna’s expansive baritone range and acting skills have made him one of the world’s best buffo interpreters of today.
His repertoire includes more than 50 roles ranging from baroque to contemporary with a particular preference for Mozart, Rossini and Donizetti.
Bordogna also happens to be born in Milan, where The Turk in Italy premiered in 1814.
The compelling performer jumped straight off the stage from his final rehearsal to speak with us, just days before the production’s opening night.
This is the fourth time that Bordogna has performed with Opera Australia, and he’s happy to be back Down Under.
“I feel there’s a special energy in Australia, and the sky in Sydney feels bigger and closer to me, even in winter,” he said.
“Sydney has a wonderful audience that comes to the opera to have fun and gives off a great energy.”
It was in this very production that Bordogna made his Australian debut, and he’s looking forward to reviving it again from tomorrow.
“I really love this opera and it’s not so often performed so I’m very glad that Lyndon Terracini decided to put it on stage again because it’s a beautiful opera with amazing arias,” he said.
When asked why he believes this engaging comedy isn’t performed regularly, Bordogna had a few theories, among them the fact that the success of Rossini’s famous opera The Barber of Seville may have overshadowed it slightly in the past.
“People think that the story isn’t interesting enough for a director and in the world of opera today, directors are very important – much more than singers and conductors – so you must have a good director who can do this comedy and in a modern way,” he explained.
“It’s also difficult to perform because you have to be a good actor and be able to sing the difficult music of Rossini. It’s like a musical and in a musical you need someone who can sing while doing physical things on stage.”
Though this production is fun and playful, Bordogna explains that more serious underlying messages are woven throughout, which the audience can relate to.
“It’s funny and the music is very spicy but everyone can recognise themselves in the characters and their problems,” he said.
Though Phillips’ production is set more than a century after the opera was written, Bordogna believes that Rossini’s masterpiece was almost made for the 1950s.
If he had to pick between a modern or more traditional production, Bordogna isn’t so fussed with the setting as the quality.
“I am much more interested in a good production and for me that means a production which goes very well with the music,” he said.
“The most important thing is to respect the music and the libretto, then you can do whatever you want. You can do a horrible production in a traditional way and a beautiful production in a modern way… and vice versa.”
Bordogna hopes his Sydney audiences see the production and his performance as a “gift to the soul”, and that they leave the theatre feeling enriched.
After all, that’s exactly how he’ll leave the stage feeling:
“The Sydney Opera House is recognised as one of the best in the world, and it’s not just a pleasure to sing here, it’s an honour and a privilege.”