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

Collision: Spectra Ensemble at the Arcola Theatre

‘Asteroid flyby in October: A drill for the end of the world?’ So shouted a headline in USA Today earlier this month, as journalist Doyle Rice asked, ‘Are we ready for an asteroid impact?’ in his report that in October NASA will conduct a drill to see how well its planetary defence system would work if an actual asteroid were heading straight for Earth.

Joshua Bell offers Hispanic headiness at the Proms

At the start of the 20th century, French composers seemed to be conducting a cultural love affair with Spain, an affair initiated by the Universal Exposition of 1889 where the twenty-five-year old Debussy and the fourteen-year-old Ravel had the opportunity to hear new sounds from East Asia, such as the Javanese gamelan, alongside gypsy flamenco from Granada.

John Joubert's Jane Eyre

Librettists have long mined the literature shelves for narratives that are ripe for musico-dramatic embodiment. On the whole, it’s the short stories and poems - The Turn of the Screw, Eugene Onegin or Death in Venice, for example - that best lend themselves to operatic adaptation.

Hibiki: a European premiere by Mark-Anthony Turnage at the Proms

Hibiki: sound, noise, echo, reverberation, harmony. Commissioned by the Suntory Hall in Tokyo to celebrate the Hall’s 30th anniversary in 2016, Mark-Anthony Turnage’s 50-minute Hibiki, for two female soloists, children’s chorus and large orchestra, purports to reflect on the ‘human reverberations’ of the Tohoku earthquake in 2011 and the devastation caused by the subsequent tsunami and radioactive disaster.

Through Life and Love: Louise Alder sings Strauss

Soprano Louise Alder has had an eventful few months. Declared ‘Young Singer of the Year’ at the 2017 International Opera Awards in May, the following month she won the Dame Joan Sutherland Audience Prize at the BBC Cardiff Singer of the World.

Janáček: The Diary of One Who Disappeared, Grimeborn

A great performance of Janáček’s song cycle The Diary of One Who Disappeared can be, allowing for the casting of a superb tenor, an experience on a par with Schoenberg’s Erwartung. That Shadwell Opera’s minimalist, but powerful, staging in the intimate setting of Studio 2 of the Arcola Theatre was a triumph was in no small measure to the magnificent singing of the tenor, Sam Furness.

Khovanshchina: Mussorgsky at the Proms

Remembering the centenary of the Russian Revolution, this Proms performance of Mussorgsky’s mighty Khovanshchina (all four and a quarter hours of it) exceeded all expectations on a musical level. And, while the trademark doorstop Proms opera programme duly arrived containing full text and translation, one should celebrate the fact that - finally - we had surtitles on several screens.

Santa Fe: Entertaining If Not Exactly (R)evolutionary

You know what I loved best about Santa Fe Opera’s world premiere The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs?

Longborough Young Artists in London: Gluck's Orfeo ed Euridice

For the last three years, Longborough Festival Opera’s repertoire of choice for their Young Artist Programme productions has been Baroque opera seria, more specifically Handel, with last year’s Alcina succeeding Rinaldo in 2014 and Xerxes in 2015.

A Master Baritone in Recital: Sesto Bruscantini, 1981

This is the only disc ever devoted to the art of Sesto Bruscantini (1919–2003). Record collectors value his performance of major baritone roles, especially comic but also serious ones, on many complete opera recordings, such as Il barbiere di Siviglia (with Victoria de los Angeles). He continued to perform at major houses until at least 1985 and even recorded Mozart's Don Alfonso in 1991, when he was 72.

Emalie Savoy: A Portrait

Since 1952, the ARD—the organization of German radio stations—has run an annual competition for young musicians. Winners have included Jessye Norman, Maurice André, Heinz Holliger, and Mitsuko Uchida. Starting in 2015, the CD firm GENUIN has offered, as a separate award, the chance for one of the prize winners to make a CD that can serve as a kind of calling card to the larger musical and music-loving world. In 2016, the second such CD award was given to the Aris Quartett (second-prize winner in the “string quartet” category).

Full-throated Cockerel at Santa Fe

A tale of a lazy, befuddled world leader that ‘has no clothes on’ and his two dimwit sons, hmmmm, what does that remind me of. . .?

Santa Fe’s Trippy Handel

If you don’t like a given moment in Santa Fe Opera’s staging of Alcina, well, just like the volatile mountain weather, wait two minutes and it will surely change.

Santa Fe’s Crowd-Pleasing Strauss

With Die Fledermaus’ thrice familiar overture still lingering in our ears, it didn’t take long for the assault of hijinks to reduce the audience into guffaws of delight.

Santa Fe: Mad for Lucia

If there is any practitioner currently singing the punishing title role of Lucia di Lammermoor better than Brenda Rae, I am hard-pressed to name her.

Janáček's The Cunning Little Vixen at Grimeborn

Janáček’s The Cunning Little Vixen can be a difficult opera to stage, despite its charm and simplicity. In part it is a good, old-fashioned morality tale about the relationships between humans and animals, and between themselves, but Janáček doesn’t use a sledgehammer to make this point. It is easy for many productions to fall into parody, and many have done, and it is a tribute to The Opera Company’s staging of this work at the Arcola Theatre that they narrowly avoided this pitfall.

Handel's Israel in Egypt at the Proms: William Christie and the OAE

For all its extreme popularity with choirs, Handel’s oratorio Israel in Egypt is a somewhat problematic work; the scarcity of solos makes hiring professional soloists an extravagant expense, and the standard version of the work starts oddly with a tenor recitative. If we return to the work's history then these issues are put into context, and this is what William Christie did for the performance of Handel’s Israel in Egypt at the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall on Tuesday 1 August 2017.

Sirens and Scheherazade: Prom 18

From Monteverdi’s Il ritorno d'Ulisse in patria, to Bruch’s choral-orchestral Odysseus, to Fauré’s Penelope, countless compositions have taken their inspiration from Homer’s Odyssey, perhaps not surprisingly given Homer’s emphasis on the power of music in the Greek world.

Discovering Gounod’s Cinq Mars: Another Rarity Success for Oper Leipzig

Oper Leipzig usually receives less international attention than its Dresden, Munich or Berlin counterparts; however, with its fabulous Gewandhaus Orchestra, and its penchant for opera rarities (and a new Ring Cycle), this quality hotspot will be attracting more and more opera lovers. Leipzig’s new production of Gounod’s Cinq Mars continues this high quality tradition.

Detlev Glanert : Requiem for Hieronymus Bosch

Detlev Glanert's Requiem for Hieronymus Bosch should be a huge hit. Just as Carl Orff's Carmina Burana appeals to audiences who don't listen to early music (or even to much classical music), Glanert's Requiem for Hieronymus Bosch has all the elements for instant popular success.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Kirsten Blanck as Princess Turandot [Photo by Catherine Ashmore courtesy of English National Opera]
13 Oct 2009

Turandot at ENO

A writer goes to dine in an urban Chinese restaurant, where his eye is caught by a distressed young woman among the crowd of diners.

Giacomo Puccini: Turandot

Princess Turandot: Kirsten Blanck; Calaf: Gwyn Hughes Jones; Liù: Amanda Echalaz; Timur: James Creswell; Emperor Altoum: Stuart Kale; Mandarin: Iain Paterson; Ping: Benedict Nelson; Pang: Richard Roberts; Pong: Christopher Turner. Conductor: Edward Gardner; Director: Rupert Goold; Associate Director/Choreographer: Aletta Collins; Set Designer: Miriam Buether; Costume Designer: Katrina Lindsay; Lighting Designer: Rick Fisher; Video Art and Design: Lorna Heavey; Translator: William Radice

Above: Kirsten Blanck as Princess Turandot

All photos by Catherine Ashmore courtesy of English National Opera

 

He builds a bloody, Tarantino-esque fantasy plot around her and her surroundings, stepping in and manipulating the world he has created until the characters in his nightmarish scenario eventually become so real that they destroy not just the girl but the writer too.

The girl is Liù, the story Turandot, and the writer very likely Puccini himself (though no great effort is made to give actor Scott Handy the composer’s likeness). Puccini loved Liù as a character, and died after creating her death scene. Rupert Goold’s production ends with the dying writer (here, slashed through the stomach by Turandot’s sword just as Calaf overpowers her with a kiss) taking centre stage, while the triùmphantly united Calaf and Turandot are relegated to either side.

It wasn’t until an hour after the final curtain, when I sat down to draft this review after reading the programme notes in detail on my bus ride home, that the directorial conceit began to form a joined-up entity in my mind and I finally worked out — I think — what was supposed to be going on. While I was sitting in the Coliseum with it happening in front of me, it made no sense whatsoever, and that’s poor theatre by anybody’s standards. Turandot should be a garish nightmare, and this was — unfortunately, not always in the way the director intended. From the chorus, which looked as if it had been plucked from a generic modern-dress performance of Act 2 of La bohème (nuns, transsexuals, Elvis impersonators, dominatrices…), to the murderous dancers with chefs’ trousers and pigs’ heads, to the Emperor Altoum (eloquently sung by Stuart Kale) who was played as an eccentric old drunk that the ‘writer’ decides to use as a pawn in his story, to Turandot’s creepy little servant-girl (or familiar spirit?) in her First Communion outfit — none of it bore any relation either to the plot or to Puccini’s music.

Kirsten Blanck’s soft-grained voice and dry European consonants take away any real cutting edge from her soprano, but she has a voice that is more than adequate for such a big role in such a big theatre, and rides the Act 2 ensemble very effectively. It’s just a shame that her character is given no dramatic context whatever. In the first act, Calaf falls in love not with the real Turandot but with a giant ice-sculpture facsimile of her; from her first appearance ‘in the flesh’ in Act 2, she looks like a demented bride.

The vocal highlights of this production come from Gwyn Hughes Jones as Calaf and Amanda Echalaz as Liù. Hughes Jones sings gloriously, even if he sounds underpowered once the heavy orchestration of the Alfano ending is underway. Not a natural stage creature, he fails to create much of a character — like Blanck, he has next to no help from the director in doing so. Just why, exactly, does he fall instantly in love? And what is it about him that eventually melts the ice princess? He has vocal ardour in spades, but his physical presence is oddly dispassionate. As for Echalaz — after a few years of spectacular performances for smaller UK companies like ETO and Opera Holland Park, the South African soprano’s star is at last truly in the ascendant. It is a large voice and there is some work she could still do on some of the more delicate parts of the role, but she has a magnetic stage presence and (despite a truly horrible costume) gave a performance of real heart. The American bass James Cresswell was a sincerely sung, sympathetic Timur.

Turandot_002.gifAmanda Echalaz as Liù and Gwyn Hughes Jones as Calaf

In the pit, Ed Gardner is on top form, making the lyrical passages bloom and the brutal ones blaze, while the ENO Chorus produce a massive and impressive sound. Most of William Radice’s translation is pretty respectable, but there are a few obvious problems which really need to be ironed out: in one of the opera’s subtlest and most legato passages, the moon chorus in Act 1, the words are perversely set against the beat, while in Act 3 the principals are subjected to rather a lot of unkind ‘i’ and ‘ee’ vowels on climactic high notes. And Pang’s nostalgia for his ‘gardens near Kiù’ was always destined to raise an unintentional titter from a London audience.

Turandot_003.gifFull Stage

The trio of ministers was plagued by illness; Peter van Hulle replaced Christopher Turner as Pong, while Richard Roberts (announced as suffering from a throat infection but willing to sing anyway) croaked his way through the first act before yielding to understudy Gareth Huw John (singing from the side of the stage) for the rest of the opera. Fortunately Benedict Nelson, the Ping, was not only completely healthy but in particularly fine voice.

Turandot was really the last of the great repertoire standards to get an up-to-date production in London. It is not the nightmare-Chinese-restaurant setting (with sets imaginatively conceived by Miriam Buether) that ruins Goold’s vision of the opera but his willingness to allow many of the opera’s big climaxes to take second place to the point he wants to make about the composer’s relationship with the piece. As such, it is a frustrating experience.

Ruth Elleson © 2009

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):