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The Story Of 'The Turk In Italy'

ACT ONE begins near a gypsy camp outside Naples, where we meet Prosdocimo, a local poet. He needs ideas for a romantic comedy, and he's about to get plenty of new material.

Prosdocimo first encounters the young woman Zaida. She's a former Turkish slave who fell in love with her master, a prince named Selim. She was actually engaged to marry him — until some sort of palace intrigue got her in trouble and she fled to Italy. Now, she's encouraged when she hears that a Turkish prince is about to visit. Maybe, she thinks, he can put in a good word for her back home.

As it turns out, the prince who arrives is Selim himself, and he's looking for love. But the woman he falls for is not Zaida. Instead, he has an eye for Fiorilla, a young Italian woman. She's married to Geronio, but her affections sometimes wander. Fiorilla feels she has an endless capacity for love, and she thinks it's silly to limit herself to only one man. She already has an admirer — Geronio's friend Narciso — and she's more than willing to entertain the visiting Selim, as well.

Seeing all this, the poet has plenty of stuff for his romantic comedy. Geronio is already jealous of Narciso, and now they're both envious of Selim, who immediately moves in on Fiorilla. Soon, it gets even more complicated. By the end of the first act, Selim is reunited with Zaida, and that sets up yet another rivalry — between Zaida and Fiorilla.

As ACT TWO opens, Selim is drinking in a tavern. He tells Geronio that in Turkey, it's customary for a prince who wants another man's wife to make a fair offer, and buy the woman from her husband. Geronio tells Selim that in Italy, it's the custom for jealous husbands to offer boorish Turkish princes a quick punch in the nose.

This discussion gets nowhere fast, and when the two men leave, Fiorilla shows up. She's been invited to the tavern by Selim, and he soon returns. But this time, he's with Zaida — his former fiancee, who wants him back. The two women ask him to make up his mind. Which one does he want? He says he can't decide, so Zaida basically tells Fiorilla, "You can have the bum." But nothing's going to be quite that easy.

There's a costume ball on the calendar. Selim plans to attend, and use the festivities as a cover to abduct Fiorilla. Prosdocimo, the poet, has been coaxing the action along, reaping more and more material for a play. So he tells Geronio about Selim's plan. Meanwhile, there's Narciso, who also wants Fiorilla. Narciso decides he'll go to the ball dressed as Selim and try to take Fiorilla for himself. Zaida is also headed for the ball. She'll dress as Fiorilla, hoping Selim will abduct her by mistake.

Not surprisingly, the ball is a scene of mounting confusion. It culminates in a brilliant comic quintet involving Selim and Fiorilla; Narciso and Zaida, who are dressed as Selim and Fiorilla; and the unfortunate Geronio, who's growing more desperate by the minute.

Eventually, Prosdocimo urges poor Geronio to put on a brave front and pretend to dump Fiorilla. This show of manly defiance does the trick. By the time the opera ends, Fiorilla is back with Geronio and Selim is sailing for Turkey, taking Zaida with him.

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