Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.







Recently in Reviews

The Barber of Seville, ENO London

This may be the twelfth revival of Jonathan Miller’s 1987production of Rossini’s The Barber of Seville for English National Opera, but the ready laughter from the auditorium and the fresh musical and dramatic responses from the stage suggest that it will continue to amuse audiences and serve the house well for some time to come.

Monteverdi: Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria, Bostridge, Barbican London

The third and final instalment of the Academy of Ancient Music’s survey of Monteverdi’s operas at the Barbican began and ended in darkness; the red glow of the single candle was an apt visual frame for a performance which was dedicated to the memory of the late Andrew Porter, the music critic and writer whose learned, pertinent and eloquent words did so much to restore Monteverdi, Cavalli and other neglected music-dramatists to the operatic stage.

English Touring Opera - Debussy, Massenet and Offenbach

English Touring Opera’s recent programming has been ambitious and inventive, and the results have been rewarding. We had two little-known Donizetti operas, The Siege of Calais and The Wild Man of the West Indies, in spring 2015, while autumn 2014 saw the company stage comedy by Haydn (Il mondo della luna) and romantic history by Handel (Ottone).

“Nessun Dorma — The Puccini Album”

Sounds swirl with an urgent emotionality and meandering virtuosity on Jonas Kaufmann’s new Puccini album—the “real one”, according to Kaufmann, whose works were also released earlier this year on Decca records, allegedly without his approval.

Verismo Double Header in Los Angeles

LA Opera got its season off to an auspicious beginning with starry revivals of Gianni Schicchi and Pagliacci.

Viva Verdi at Opera Las Vegas

On September 9, 2015, Opera Las Vegas presented James Sohre’s production of Viva Verdi at the Smith Center’s Cabaret Jazz. It was a delightful evening of arias, duets and ensembles by Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901). The program included many of the composer’s blockbuster arias and scenes from famous operas such as Aida, La traviata, and Macbeth.

Barbera Sings a Fascinating Recital in San Diego

On Saturday, September 19, San Diego Opera opened its 2015-2016 season with a recital by tenor René Barbera. This was the first Polly Puterbaugh Emerging Artist Award Recital and no artist could have been more deserving than the immensely talented Barbera.

Wigmore Hall Complete Schubert Song Series begins with Boesch and Johnson

The Wigmore Hall, London, has launched Schubert : The Complete Songs, a 40-concert series to run through the 2015 and 2016 seasons. There have been Schubert marathons before, like BBC Radio 3's all-Schubert week and The Oxford Lieder Festival's Schubert series last year, but the Wigmore Hall series will be a major landmark because the Wigmore Hall is the Wigmore Hall, the epitome of excellence.

Honegger: Jeanne d’Arc au bûcher

Marion Cotillard and Marc Soustrot bring the drama to the sweeping score of Arthur Honegger’s Jeanne dArc au bûcher, an adaptation of the Trial of Joan of Arc

Luisa Miller in San Francisco

Luisa Miller sits on the fringes of the repertory, and since its introduction into the modern repertory in the 1970’s it comes around every 15 or so years. Unfortunately this 2015 San Francisco occasion has not bothered to rethink this remarkable opera.

Salieri: La grotta di Trofonio (Trofonio’s Cave)

Demonised by Pushkin and Peter Shaffer, Antonio Salieri lives in the public imagination as the embittered rival of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart — whose genius he lamented and revered in equal measure, and against whom he schemed and plotted at the Emperor Joseph II’s Viennese court.

Chicago Lyric’s Stars Shine at Millennium Park

The annual concert given by Lyric Opera of Chicago as an outdoor event previewing the forthcoming season took place on 11 September 2015 at Millennium Park.

Far in the Heavens — Choral Music of Stephen Paulus

Stephen Paulus provided the musical world, and particularly the choral world, with music both provocative and pleasing through a combination of lyricism and a modern-Romantic tonal palette.

Gluck: Orphée et Eurydice

Orpheus — that Greek hero whose songs could enchant both deities and beasts, whose lyre has become a metaphor for the power of music itself, and whose journey to the Underworld to rescue his wife, Eurydice, kick-started the art of opera in Mantua in 1607 — has been travelling far and wide around the UK in 2015.

Vaughan Williams and Holst Double Bill

One is a quasi-verbatim rendering of J.M. Synge’s bleak tale of a Donegal family’s fateful dependency on and submission to the deathly power of the sea.

Iestyn Davies at Wigmore Hall

Is there anything that countertenor Iestyn Davies cannot do with his voice?

Prom 75: The Dream of Gerontius

BBC Proms Youth Choir shines in a performance notable for its magical transparency

Prom 67: Bernstein — Stage and Screen

The John Wilson Orchestra have been annual summer visitors to the Royal Albert Hall since their Proms debut in 2009 and, with their seductive blend of technical precision, buoyant glitziness and relaxed insouciance, their concerts have become a hugely anticipated fixture and a sure highlight of the Promenade season.

Prom 65: Alice Coote sings Handel

Disappointing staging mars Alice Coote’s vibrant if wayward musical performance

Santa Fe: Secondary Mozart in First Rate Staging

Impresario Boris Goldovsky famously referred to La finta giardiniera as The Phony Farmerette.



Dario Volonte as Calaf, Maria Guleghina as Turandot [Photo by Karin Cooper courtesy of Washington National Opera]
17 May 2009

Turandot — Washington National Opera

Bringing Andrei Şerban’s Turandot to the Washington National Opera as a season finale really means finishing the year with a bang.

Giacomo Puccini: Turandot

Princess Turandot: Maria Guleghina (May 16, 19, 21, 24m, 27), Sylvie Valayre (May 30, Jun 1, 4); Calaf: Darío Volonté (May 16, 19, 21, 24m), Franco Farina (May 27, 30, Jun 1, 4); Liù: Sabina Cvilak (May 16, 19, 21, 24m), Maija Kovalevska (May 27, 30, Jun 1, 4); Timur: Morris Robinson; Ping: Nathan Herfindahl; Pang: Norman Shankle; Pong: Yingxi Zhang; The Mandarin: Oleksandr Pushniak; Emperor Altoum: Robert Baker; Prince of Persia: Seong Won Nam. Conductor: Keri-Lynn Wilson (May 16, 19, 21, 24, 27, 30, Jun 1). Plácido Domingo (Jun 4). Director: Andrei Şerban.

Above: Dario Volonte as Calaf, Maria Guleghina as Turandot

All photos by Karin Cooper courtesy of Washington National Opera


Created by the Royal Opera House in 1984, with the current WNO director Placido Domingo as Calaf and Gwyneth Jones in the title role, the production has since been revived there fifteen times, staged over fifty times by opera houses around the world, and celebrates its 25th season this year. With all due respect to the original cast, this unprecedented success has nothing to do with them, but rather with the interpretive genius of the director Andrei Şerban, and the fantastic inventiveness of the set and costume designer Sally Jacobs, whose original ideas were presented last night at the WNO stage.

Şerban’s Turandot is staged: literally staged, as the opera is played out in a traditional Chinese theater, with the chorus occupying the galleries as it comments and participates in the action. The theater is decorated by gigantic masks, representing the heads of Turandot’s slain suitors. The characters are also masked (most also wear a white-face make-up, creating a mask-over-mask effect), their gestures deliberate and stylized. The colors are vibrant, with the crimson reds dominating. The emperor’s golden throne, lowered from the ceiling to hover above the crowd in Acts 2 and 3, is a striking effect, and the sword-wielding female dancers in white masks are so chilling, they are downright creepy.

Sabina-Cvilak-(fore)-as-Liu.gifSabina Cvilak (fore) as Liu, Maria Guleghina (back) as Turandot

The opening night was the usual spectacle of tuxes and gowns. My husband really liked the live Terracotta Warrior in the lobby; I thought it was, perhaps, a tad over the top. There were inevitable first-night kinks; and no, I am not talking about an unidentified heavy object crashing backstage half-way through Turandot’s opening aria, which all those present have been determined to forget. The kinks concerned the issues of balance and timing, as the conductor Keri-Lynn Wilson tried to keep various sections of the large orchestra, chorus, and soloists in a perfect synchronicity required by Puccini’s famously complex score. The first act in particular occasionally felt like a gigantic house of cards, shaking slightly, just on the verge of collapse. Thankfully, it never quite did, and as the performance progressed, the tremors mostly subsided, save for only an occasional aftershock.

Argentine tenor Dario Volonté as Calaf hit every note; he demonstrated the fiery metallic timbre, and the alternatively aggressive and brooding personality essential for his character. Yet, his voice had no lyricism, no warmth, and most importantly, no sustaining power — at least not last night — that would have allowed the listener time to appreciate all those head-spinning highs before they sputtered and died like wet Chinese fireworks. His Act 3 pièce de resistance, “Nessun dorma”, was so rushed that the orchestra had trouble keeping up. There was no cantilena, no luxurious lingering on the final “Vincero!”, and consequently, Turandot’s most glorious moment and one of Puccini’s best-known tunes, probably for the first time in its history, evaporated without even a smattering of applause.

Act-I_WNO-Turandot-09_cr.gifScene from Act I

The first applause of the night belonged to Slovenian soprano Sabina Cvilak as Liù, and deservedly so. Her tiny, brittle figure, dwarfed by the scenery and the other characters, was an embodiment of Puccini’s fragile, tragic heroine, the most human character in Turandot (in a stroke of directorial inventiveness, Liù is never masked). And the vocal interpretation was spot-on: pure, crystalline highs; easy, unforced delivery; power to soar above the orchestra at will, but exercised sparingly, in preference to the heart-breaking pianissimo that somehow, miraculously, was perfectly audible (kudos here also to Ms Wilson for her sensitive conducting).

There could have been no greater contrast between Ms Cvilak’s Liù and Princess Turandot as presented by celebrated Russian dramatic soprano Maria Guleghina. Here, everything was the opposite: tall, imposing figure; stylized kabuki gestures; earth-shattering power of the voice that waited until the opera’s finale to drop below fortissimo and was meanwhile so intimidating, one barely noticed that it was almost impossible to discern the words that came out of Ms Guleghina’s mouth. Like the “citizens of Peking,” we simply submitted to the iron will of the Daughter of Heaven, and waited for precise instructions from her Mandarin.

Norman-Shankle,-Nathan-Herf.gifNorman Shankle, Nathan Herfindal, Yingxi Zhang as Ping, Pang and Pong

The Mandarin, Ukrainian Okeskandr Pushniak, was acceptable if not at all intimidating in his tiny part, and was much more interesting to look at than to hear, clad as he was in one of Sally Jacobs’ fabulously colorful creations. Much better — a highlight of the evening, in fact — were Ping, Pang, and Pong (Nathan Herfindahl, Norman Shankle, and Yingxi Zhang, respectively), who garnered accolades for their nice comic timing, and delivering strong vocal performances while endlessly moving, dancing, and literally doing cartwheels around the stage. Indeed, the choreography created by Kate Flatt for their parts and throughout Turandot proved to be one of the strongest elements of the production. Particularly interesting was the fluid continuity of stylized gestures and movements that all performers shared. Blurring the boundaries between the soloists, the chorus, and the dancers, the technique delivered a stunningly unified visual effect.

This unity was clearly the stage director’s goal, realized with the support of Jacobs’ designs, Flatt’s choreography, and F. Mitchell Dana’s lighting. For this alone, it is worth seeing Andrei Şerban’s magnificent interpretation of the Puccini classic — now, at 25, a classic in its own right.

Olga Haldey

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):