Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Reviews

Xerxes, ENO

Nicholas Hytner’s production of Handel’s Xerxes (Serse) at English National Opera (ENO) is nearly 30 years old, and is the oldest production in ENO’s stable.

San Diego Opera Opens 2014-2015 Season

On Friday evening September 5, 2014, tenor Stephen Costello and soprano Ailyn Pérez gave a recital to open the San Diego Opera season. After all the threats to close the company down, it was a great joy to great San Diego Opera in its new vibrant, if slightly slimmed down form.

Otello at ENO

English National Opera’s 2014-15 season kicked off with an ear-piercing orchestral thunderbolt. Brilliant lightning spears sliced through the thick black night, fitfully illuminating the Mediterranean garret-town square where an expectant crowd gather to welcome home their conquering hero.

Anna Nicole, back with a bang!

It is now three and a half years since Anna Nicole was unleashed on the world at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.

Norma in San Francisco

It was a Druid orgy that overtook the War Memorial. Magnificent singing, revelatory conducting, off-the-wall staging (a compliment, sort of).

Joyce DiDonato starts Wigmore Hall new season

There was a quasi-party atmosphere at the Wigmore Hall on Monday evening, when Joyce DiDonato and Antonio Pappano reprised the recital that had kicked off the Hall’s 2014-15 season with reported panache and vim two nights previously. It was standing room only, and although this was a repeat performance there certainly was no lack of freshness and spontaneity: both the American mezzo-soprano and her accompanist know how to communicate and entertain.

Aida at Aspendos Opera and Ballet Festival

In strict architectural terms, the stupendous 2nd century Roman theatre of Aspendos near Antalya in southern Turkey is not an arena or amphitheatre at all, so there are not nearly as many ghosts of gored gladiators or dismembered Christians to disturb the contemporary feng shui as in other ancient loci of Imperial amusement.

St Matthew Passion, Prom 66

Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra brought their staging of Bach's St Matthew Passion to the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall on Saturday, 6 September 2014.

Glimmerglass: Butterfly Leads the Pack

Every so often an opera fan is treated to a minor miracle, a revelatory performance of a familiar favorite that immediately sweeps all other versions before it.

Operalia, the World Opera Competition, Showcases 2014 Winners

On August 30, Los Angeles Opera presented the finals concert of Plácido Domingo’s Operalia, the world opera competition. Founded in 1993, the contest endeavors to discover and help launch the careers of the most promising young opera singers of today. Thousands of applicants send in recordings from which forty singers are chosen to perform live in the city where the contest is being held. Last year it was Verona, Italy, this year Los Angeles, next year London.

Elektra at Prom 59

The second day of the Richard Strauss weekend at the BBC Proms saw Richard Strauss's Elektra performed at the Royal Albert Hall on 31 August 2014 by the BBC Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Semyon Bychkov, with Christine Goerke in the title role.

Powerful Mahler Symphony no 2 Harding, BBC Proms London

Triumphant! An exceptionally stimulating Mahler Symphony No 2 from Daniel Harding and the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra, BBC Prom 57 at the Royal Albert Hall. Harding's Mahler Tenth performances (especially with the Berliner Philharmoniker) are pretty much the benchmark by which all other performances are assessed. Harding's Mahler Second is informed by such an intuitive insight into the whole traverse of the composer's work that, should he get around to doing all ten together, he'll fulfil the long-held dream of "One Grand Symphony", all ten symphonies understood as a coherent progression of developing ideas.

Nina Stemme's stunning Strauss Salome, BBC Proms London

The BBC Proms continued its Richard Strauss celebrations with a performance of his first major operatic success Salome. Nina Stemme led forces from the Deutsche Oper, Berlin,at the Royal Albert Hall on Saturday 30 August 2014,the first of a remarkable pair of Proms which sees Salome and Elektra performed on successive evenings

Santa Fe Opera Presents Updated, at One Point Up-ended, Don Pasquale

On August 9, 2014, Santa Fe Opera presented a new updated production of Don Pasquale that set the action in the 1950s. Chantal Thomas’s Act I scenery showed the Don’s furnishing as somewhat worn and decidedly dowdy. Later, she literally turned the Don’s home upside down!

Dolora Zajick Premieres Composition

At a concert in the Cathedral of Saint Joseph in San Jose, California, on August 22, 2014, a few selections preceded the piece the audience had been waiting for: the world premiere of Dolora Zajick’s brand new composition, an opera scene entitled Roads to Zion.

Gluck: Orfeo ed Euridice

This elegant, smartly-paced film turns Gluck’s Orfeo into a Dostoevskian study of a guilt-wracked misanthrope, portrayed by American countertenor Bejun Mehta.

Aureliano in Palmira in Pesaro

Ossia Il barbiere di Siviglia. Why waste a good tune.

Britten War Requiem - Andris Nelsons, CBSO, BBC Prom 47

In light of the 2012 half-centenary of the premiere in the newly re-built Coventry Cathedral of Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem, the 2013 centennial celebrations of the composer’s own birth, and this year’s commemorations of the commencement of WW1, it is perhaps not surprising that the War Requiem - a work which was long in gestation and which might be seen as a summation of the composer’s musical, political and personal concerns - has been fairly frequently programmed of late. And, given the large, multifarious forces required, the potent juxtaposition of searing English poetry and liturgical Latin, and the profound resonances of the circumstances of the work’s commission and premiere, it would be hard to find a performance, as William Mann declared following the premiere, which was not a ‘momentous occasion’.

Il barbiere di Siviglia in Pesaro

Both by default and by merit Il barbiere di Siviglia is the hit of the thirty-fifth Rossini Opera Festival. But did anyone really want, and did the world really need yet another production of this old warhorse?

Armida in Pesaro

Armida (1817) is the third of Rossini’s nine operas for the Teatro San Carlo in Naples, all serious. The first was Elisabetta, regina di Inghilterra (1815), the second was Otello (1816), the last was Zelmira (1822).

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):