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Performances

A scene from Turandot [Photo by R. Tinker]
08 May 2015

Manitoba Opera: Turandot

There’s little doubt that Puccini’s Turandot is a flawed, illogical fairytale. Yet it continues to resonate today with its undying “love shall conquer all” ethos, where even the most heinous crimes may be forgiven by that which makes the world go ‘round.

Manitoba Opera: Turandot

A review by Holly Harris

Above: A scene from Turandot

Photos by R. Tinker

 

Manitoba Opera closed its 2014/15 season with its first staging of the Asian-inspired drama since 1996, with three performances held April 18, 21, and 24. The 165-minute production (including two intermissions) stage directed by Winnipeg-born Tom Diamond also featured Tyrone Paterson ably leading the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra through Puccini’s lushly orchestrated score infused with exotic, Eastern flavoured themes.

Moscow-born soprano Mlada Khudoley who also appeared in the title role during MO’s 2011 production of Salome re-affirmed her status as an operatic force of nature. Her dramatic intensity seemed only to grow with each passing scene, from her first veiled, “teaser” entry where she silently perches atop sky-high scaffolding, to final duet “Del primo pianto,” in which she confesses her love to Calàf. Her mesmerizing emotional trajectory where she melts before our eyes from a stony cold princess to deeply wounded woman hiding behind pride and power proved masterful. Khudoley’s powerhouse vocals, and especially during Act II’s pivotal scene in which she poses the three cryptic riddles to Calàf enthralled with her every penetrating note.

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Winnipeg-based soprano Lara Ciekiewicz also shone in her role debut as slave girl — and moral presence — Liù. She crafted her guileless character with utter simplicity, faithfully tending to American bass Valerian Ruminski’s deposed Tartar King Timur, while begging Calàf to abandon his obsessive pursuit of Turandot during Act I’s “Signore, ascolta!” Her crystal clear voice radiated sincerity during Act III’s “Tu che di gel sei cinta,” performed just before taking her own life in order to spare Calàf’s.

Cuban-born lyric tenor Raùl Melo marking his MO debut did not fare as well. His voice struggled to project at times, albeit did grow increasingly stronger throughout the show. His iconic Act II aria “Nessun Dorma,” should be a showstopper. Melo showed some strain in his upper range, with clunky amplification of the backstage chorus also becoming a distraction. And while yes, the show did go on, his strong conviction and commitment to this character nevertheless earned loud cheers from the clearly rapt audience.

Ping (Benjamin Covey), Pang (Keith Klassen) and Pong (Christopher Mayell) made a magical entrance during their opening trio, “Fermo, che fai?,” pushed about in wheeled, skirted pedestals. Their dreamy Act II “Ho una casa nell’Honan,” where they pine for their former homes with peaceful, bamboo-flanked lakes became another highlight.

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The lavish production including vibrantly colourful sets/costumes from Opera Carolina created stunning eye candy, including effective video/stills projections that added further dimensionality and contemporary appeal. The image of skulls bobbing in blood does not easily leave the imagination — but neither does the luminous, breathtaking moon or starry night sky that served as visual canvas for the top of Act II.

Characters positioned on towering scaffolds clearly showed the pecking order of power. The Emperor Altoum wonderfully sung by Manitoban bass Terence Mierau — and notably real-life farmer — seated among shards of light at the very height of the hall added gravitas to the entire production.

The Manitoba Opera Chorus prepared by Tadeusz Biernacki was augmented by Children’s Chorus led by Carolyn Boyes, with the latter ensemble’s pure voices singing of the rising moon in “Perche tarda la luna?” stirring.

Opera at its grandest should ideally move the heart or inspire the soul — as witnessed during MO’s brilliant season-opener of Fidelio last November. However, Puccini’s opera remains a conundrum; a fantastical tale that ends happily ever only after its most innocent characters, Liù and her countless suitors including the Prince of Persia (George Nytepchuk) have become brutally slaughtered.

Still, MO is to be commended for breathing new life into this ice princess after an absence of 19 years. The opening night audience certainly seemed to agree, especially melted by Khudoley’s gripping performance, and springing to its feet at the end with cries of bravo.

Holly Harris

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