Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Reviews

A Mysterious Lucia at Forest Lawn

On September 10, 2017, Pacific Opera Project (POP) presented Gaetano Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor in a beautiful outdoor setting at Forest Lawn. POP audiences enjoy casual seating with wine, water, and finger foods at each table. General and Artistic Director Josh Shaw greeted patrons in a “blood stained” white wedding suit. Since Lucia is a Scottish opera, it opened with an elegant bagpipe solo calling members of the audience to their seats.

This is Rattle: Blazing Berlioz at the Barbican Hall

Blazing Berlioz' The Damnation of Faust at the Barbican with Sir Simon Rattle, Bryan Hymel, Christopher Purves, Karen Cargill, Gabor Bretz, The London Symphony Orchestra and The London Symphony Chorus directed by Simon Halsey, Rattle's chorus master of choice for nearly 35 years. Towards the end, the Tiffin Boys' Choir, the Tiffin Girls' Choir and Tiffin Children's Choir (choirmaster James Day) filed into the darkened auditorium to sing The Apotheosis of Marguerite, their voices pure and angelic, their faces shining. An astonishingly theatrical touch, but absolutely right.

Moved Takes on Philadelphia Headlines

There‘s a powerful new force in the opera world and its name is O17.

Philly Flute’s Fast and Furious Frills

If you never thought opera could make your eyes cross with visual sensory over load, you never saw Opera Philadelphia’s razzle-dazzle The Magic Flute.

At War With Philadelphia

Enterprising Opera Philadelphia has included a couple of intriguing site-specific events in their O17 Festival line-up.

The Mozartists at the Wigmore Hall

Three years into their MOZART 250 project, Classical Opera have launched a new venture, The Mozartists, which is designed to allow the company to broaden its exploration of the concert and symphonic works of Mozart and his contemporaries.

Philadelphia: Putting On Great Opera Can Be Murder

Composer Kevin Puts and librettist Mark Campbell have gifted Opera Philadelphia (and by extension, the world) with a crackling and melodious new stage piece, Elizabeth Cree.

Mansfield Park at The Grange

In her 200th anniversary year, in the county of her birth and in which she spent much of her life, and two days after she became the first female writer to feature on a banknote - the new polymer £10 note - Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park made a timely appearance, in operatic form, at The Grange in Hampshire.

Elektra in San Francisco

Among the myriad of artistic innovation during the Kurt Herbert Adler era at San Francisco Opera was the expansion of the War Memorial Opera House pit. Thus there could be 100 players in the pit for this current edition of Strauss’ beloved opera, Elektra!

Mark Padmore on festivals, lieder and musical conversations

I have to confess, somewhat sheepishly, at the start of my conversation with Mark Padmore, that I had not previously been aware of the annual music festival held in the small Cotswolds town of Tetbury, which was founded in 2002 and to which Padmore will return later this month to perform a recital of lieder by Schubert and Schumann with pianist Till Fellner.

Turandot in San Francisco

Mega famous L.A. artist David Hockney is no stranger at San Francisco Opera. Of his six designs for opera only the Met’s Parade and Covent Garden’s Die Frau ohne Schatten have not found their way onto the War Memorial stage.

The School of Jealousy: Bampton Classical Opera bring Salieri to London

In addition to fond memories of previous beguiling productions, I had two specific reasons for eagerly anticipating this annual visit by Bampton Classical Opera to St John’s Smith Square. First, it offered the chance to enjoy again the tunefulness and wit of Salieri’s dramma giocoso, La scuola de’ gelosi (The School of Jealousy), which I’d seen the company perform so stylishly at Bampton in July.

Richard Jones' new La bohème opens ROH season

There was a decided nip in the air as I made my way to the opening night of the Royal Opera House’s 2017/18 season, eagerly anticipating the House’s first new production of La bohème for over forty years. But, inside the theatre in took just a few moments of magic for director Richard Jones and his designer, Stewart Laing, to convince me that I had left autumnal London far behind.

Giovanni Simon Mayr: Medea in Corinto

The Bavarian-born Johann Simon Mayr (1763–1845) trained and made his career in Italy and thus ended up calling himself Giovanni Simone Mayr, or simply G. S. Mayr. He is best known for having been composition teacher to Giuseppe Donizetti.

Robin Tritschler and Julius Drake open
Wigmore Hall's 2017/18 season

It must be a Director’s nightmare. After all the months of planning, co-ordinating and facilitating, you are approaching the opening night of a new concert season, at which one of the world’s leading baritones is due to perform, accompanied by a pianist who is one of the world’s leading chamber musicians. And, then, appendicitis strikes. You have 24 hours to find a replacement vocal soloist or else the expectant patrons will be disappointed.

The Opera Box at the Brunel Museum

The courtly palace may have been opera’s first home but nowadays it gets out and about, popping up in tram-sheds, car-parks, night-clubs, on the beach, even under canal bridges. So, I wasn’t that surprised to find myself following The Opera Box down the shaft of Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s Thames Tunnel at Rotherhithe for a double bill which brought together the gothic and the farcical.

Proms at Wiltons: Eight Songs for a Mad King

It’s hard to imagine that Peter Maxwell Davies’ dramatic monologue, Eight Songs for a Mad King, can bear, or needs, any further contextualisation or intensification, so traumatic is its depiction - part public history, part private drama - of the descent into madness of King George III. It is a painful exposure of the fracture which separates the Sovereign King from the human mortal.

Prokofiev: Cantata for the 20th Anniversary of the October Revolution: Gergiev, Mariinsky

Sergei Prokofiev's Cantata for the Twentieth Anniversary of the October Revolution, Op 74, with Valery Gergiev conducting the Mariinsky Orchestra and Chorus. One Day That Shook the World to borrow the subtitle from Sergei Eisenstein's epic film October : Ten Days that Shook the World.

Matthias Goerne: Bach Cantatas for Bass

In this new release for Harmonia Mundi, German baritone Matthias Goerne presents us with two gems of Bach’s cantata repertoire, with the texts of both BWV 56 and 82 exploring one’s sense of hope in death.  Goerne adeptly interprets the paradoxical combination of hope and despair that underpins these works, deploying a graceful lyricism alongside a richer, darker bass register.

Gramophone Award Winner — Matthias Goerne Brahms Vier ernste Gesänge

Winner of the 2017 Gramophone Awards, vocal category - Matthias Goerne and Christoph Eschenbach - Johannes Brahms Vier ernste Gesänge and other Brahms Lieder. Here is why ! An exceptional recording, probably a new benchmark.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Scene from Turandot [Photo by Deutsche Oper Berlin]
23 Oct 2008

Turandot without the trimmings

In recent years it’s the headgear of the ice-hearted princess that is often the major source of awe and excitement in productions of Puccini’s incomplete final opera.

G. Puccini: Turandot

Turandot (Lise Lindstrom), Altoum (Peter Maus), Calaf (Mario Zhang), Liù (Inna Los), Timur (Paata Burchuladze), Ping (Nathan Myers), Pang (Jörg Schörner), Pong (Paul Kaufmann), Ein Mandarin (Hyung-Wook Lee), Prinz von Persien (Ho-Sung Kang), Orchester der Deutschen Oper Berlin, Chor der Deutschen Oper Berlin. Musikalische Leitung: Attilio Tomasello. Inszenierung: Lorenzo Fioroni. Bühne: Paul Zoller.

Above: Scene from Turandot

All photos courtesy of Deutsche Oper Berlin

 

Thus the Turandot staging new at Berlin’s Deutsche Oper this season is an eye-opener of quite another kind: Turandot make her entrance dressed in black from head to toe and with face veiled. She mourns the injustice of earlier generations that continues to dominate life in the undefined present, in which Lorenzo Fioroni has set the production.

With a minimalist single set by Paul Zoller Fiorini makes Turandot, performed with Franco Alfari’s long-traditional conclusion, a play-within-a-play, and it’s the people who — as in German Expressionist drama of a century ago — are the downtrodden mass hero of the story as he tells it. Aged Emperor Altoumi and his partners in power look down on the stage from a director’s box high on the rear wall. The people, clad in Goodwill-type glad rags, sit as spectators in rows of folding chairs facing the audience.

The bloodletting of repeated beheadings is the opium with which Altoumi manipulates them and keeps them in line. They cry out for yet another head to role, unconscious of the cruelty and senseless abuse of power involved.

Turandot and Calaf engage in their riddle game seated eye-to-eye at a small table downstage. For Fioroni it’s a TV quiz game. Interesting, but does it make sense? It does — even if traditional Puccini fans no doubt miss at first the Orientalizing excesses of familiar stagings.

What is new — and the real eye-opener of Fioroni’s production is the double patricide that concludes it: Turandot and Calaf each cut down the father responsible for the generations of horror inflicted on their people.

Yes, yes, yes. Calaf’s father Timur was deposed somewhere along the line, presumably — it is always implied — due to great injustice. Here one feels that alcoholic Timur lost out rather because the other guy had more toys. When the chips are down and the play is over, Timur sit down at the side of the stage — back to audience — and takes out a bottle from his camel-hair coat.

Many who see Turandot are troubled — to be sure — by the torture and suicide of Liù, the only truly good person in the opera, for it is only she who knows what caritas, a truly selfless love, is. So is Fioroni, who suggests that with Liù Puccini composed himself into a corner and — unable to find a way out — left the opera unfinished. For him her sad fate hangs literally over the opera: her lifeless body is suspended above the stage in the hour of resolution.

Turandot_04.png

“These are people caught up in boundless hysteria,” Fioroni writes in the exemplary program book of the Deutsche Oper. “None of them is in a position to see the situation with a clear eye.” How otherwise can Calaf witness Liù’s pain and still ruthlessly pursue an obsession that guarantees the continuation of the status quo? At the risk of sounding sit-com, can her meaningless death nourish happy love forever after? To keep the audience thinking with him, Fioroni eschews a Broadway finale and has the chorus sing its final “big number” off stage.

Undisputed star of the October 18 cast was Mario Zhang who stepped in for an ailing Carlo Ventre as Calaf. The Canadian tenor sang the role at Dresden’s Semper Oper early in the year and was immediately engaged by other European companies. His rich and robust voice, employed with ease even at the most demanding moments, suggests that he could be the tenor the world waits for.

Lise Lindstrom, who laid the foundation of her career with regional companies of her native America, is a near-ideal Turandot. Tall and lean, she is happily free of the mannerisms that can bring this role close to parody — and, of course, Fioroni’s approach leaves no room for brightly painted feline fingernails. While Lindstrom’s somewhat metallic voice underscores Turandot’s initial frigidity, greater warmth would have been welcome later. Yet she sings with power and enviable accuracy in all ranges.

Turandot_02.png

Without capitalizing on the sympathy that an audience always feels for Liù, Balkan soprano Inna Los is an especially strong presence in this cast. (Yet one cannot stop wishing that Fioroni had been able to make his point without her corpse on stage for such an extended period.)

Paata Burchuladze, the Timur of the evening and still a major bass on the international opera scene a decade ago, has clearly reached retirement age, while Peter Maus, Altoumi in the cast and veteran of many years with the Deutsche Oper, remains an impressive tenor.

Ping, Pang and Pong, well-oiled cogs in the wheels of power as Fioroni sees them, were satisfactorily sung by Nathan Meyers, Jörg Schörner and Paul Kaufmann.

While Zoller’s designs intelligently supported Fioroni’s concept, his video projections were more movie- than opera-house and detracted from the strong story line of the staging.

Attilio Tomassello conducted an ensemble that now ranks high among Berlin’s many large symphonic ensembles. The chorus was superbly rehearsed by William Spaulding.

Turandot_03.png

“An end with horror,” says Thomas Mann following the murder of the dictatorial manipulator in “Mario and the Magician,” his psychological short-story study of Italy in the early days of Mussolini. “Yes, but a liberating end nonetheless,” he concludes. In this sense Fioroni liberates Turandot and Calaf and the people whom they will now lead from darkness into light.

This is a Turandot obviously to be taken seriously.

Wes Blomster

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):