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

Leoncavallo's Zazà at Investec Opera Holland Park

The make-up is slapped on thickly in this new production of Leoncavallo’s Zazà by director Marie Lambert and designer Alyson Cummings at Investec Opera Holland Park.

McVicar’s Enchanting but Caliginous Rigoletto in Castle Olavinlinna at Savonlinna Opera Festival

David McVicar’s thrilling take on Verdi’s Rigoletto premiered as the first international production of this Summer’s Savonlinna Opera Festival. The scouts for the festival made the smart decision to let McVicar adapt his 2001 Covent Garden staging to the unique locale of Castle Olavinlinna.

Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Performance at Covent Garden

The end of the ROH’s summer season was marked as usual by the Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Performance but this year’s showcase was a little lacklustre at times.

A Falstaff Opera in Shakespeare’s Words: Sir John in Love

Only one Shakespeare play has resulted in three operas that get performed today (whether internationally or primarily in one language-region). Perhaps surprisingly, the play in question is a comedy that is sometimes considered a lesser work by the Bard: The Merry Wives of Windsor.

Sallinen’s Kullervo is Brutal and Spectacular Finnish Opera at Savonlinna Opera Festival

For the centenary of Finland’s Independence, the Savonlinna Opera Festival brought back Kari Heiskanen’s spectacular 1992 production of Aulis Salinen’s Kullervo. The excellent Finnish soloists and glorious choir unflinchingly offered this opera of vocal blood and guts. Conductor Hannu Lintu fired up the Savonlinna Opera Festival Orchestra in Sallinen’s thrilling music.

Kát’a Kabanová at Investec Opera Holland Park

If there was any doubt of the insignificance of mankind in the face of the forces of Nature, then Yannis Thavoris’ design for Olivia Fuchs production of Janáček’s Kát’a Kabanová - first seen at Investec Opera Holland Park in 2009 - would puncture it in a flash, figuratively and literally.

A bel canto feast at Cadogan Hall

The bel canto repertoire requires stylish singing, with beautiful tone and elegant phrasing. Strength must be allied with grace in order to coast the vocal peaks with unflawed legato; flexibility blended with accuracy ensures the most bravura passages are negotiated with apparent ease.

Don Pasquale: a cold-hearted comedy at Glyndebourne

Director Mariame Clément’s Don Pasquale, first seen during the 2011 tour and staged in the house in 2013, treads a fine line between realism and artifice.

Billy Budd Indomitable in Des Moines

It is hard to know where to begin to praise the peerless accomplishment that is Des Moines Metro Opera’s staggeringly powerful Billy Budd.

Tannhäuser at Munich

Romeo Castellucci’s aesthetic — if one may speak in the singular — is very different from almost anything else on show in the opera house at the moment. That, I have no doubt, is unquestionably a good thing. Castellucci is a serious artist and it is all too easy for any of us to become stuck in an artistic rut, congratulating ourselves not only on our understanding but also,  may God help us, our ‘taste’ — as if so trivial a notion had something to do with anything other than ourselves.

Des Moines Answers Turandot’s Riddles

With Turandot, Des Moines Metro Opera operated from the premise of prima la voce, and if the no-holds-barred singing and rhapsodic playing didn’t send shivers down your spine, well, you were at the wrong address.

Maria Visits Des Moines

With an atmospheric, crackling performance of Astor Piazzolla’s Maria de Buenos Aires, Des Moines Metro Opera once again set off creative sparks with its Second Stage concept.

Die schöne Müllerin: Davies and Drake provoke fresh thoughts at Middle Temple Hall

Schubert wrote Die schöne Müllerin (1824) for a tenor (or soprano) range - that of his own voice. Wilhelm Müller’s poems depict the youthful unsophistication of a country lad who, wandering with carefree unworldliness besides a burbling stream, comes upon a watermill, espies the miller’s fetching daughter and promptly falls in love - only to be disillusioned when she spurns him for a virile hunter. So, perhaps the tenor voice possesses the requisite combination of lightness and yearning to convey this trajectory from guileless innocence to disenchantment and dejection.

World Premiere of Aulis Sallinen’s Castle in the Water Savonlinna Opera Festival

For my first trip to Finland, I flew from Helsinki to the east, close to the border of Russia near St. Petersburg over many of Suomi’s thousand lakes, where the summer getaway Savonlinna lays. Right after the solstice during July and early August, the town’s opera festival offers high quality productions. In this enchanting locale in the midst of peaceful nature, the sky at dusk after the mesmerising sunset fades away is worth the trip alone!

Mozart and Stravinsky in Aix

Bathed in Mediterranean light, basking in enlightenment Aix found two famous classical works, Mozart’s Don Giovanni and Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress in its famous festival’s open air Théâtre de l’Archevêche. But were we enlightened?

Des Moines: Nothing ‘Little’ About Night Music

Des Moines Metro Opera’s richly detailed production of Sondheim’s A Little Night Music left an appreciative audience to waltz home on air, and has prompted this viewer to search for adequate superlatives.

Longborough Festival Opera: A World Class Tristan und Isolde in a Barn Shed

Of all the places, I did not expect a sublime Tristan und Isolde in a repurposed barn in the Cotswolds. Don’t be fooled by Longborough’s stage without lavish red curtains to open and close each act. Any opera house would envy the riveting chemistry between Peter Wedd and Lee Bisset in this intimate, 500 seat setting. Conductor Anthony Negus proved himself a master at Wagner’s emotional depth. Epic drama in minimalistic elegance: who needs a big budget when you have talent and drama this passionate?

The Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra throws a glossy Bernstein party

For almost thirty years, summer at the Concertgebouw has been synonymous with Robeco SummerNights. This popular series expands the classical concert formula with pop, film music, jazz and more, served straight up or mixed together. Composer Leonard Bernstein’s versatility makes his oeuvre, ranging from Broadway to opera, prime SummerNight fare.

Die Frau ohne Schatten at Munich

It was fascinating to see — and of course, to hear — Krzysztof Warlikowsi’s productions of Die Gezeichneten and Die Frau ohne Schatten on consecutive nights of this year’s Munich Opera Festival.

A Resplendent Régine Crespin in Tosca

There have to be special reasons to release a monophonic live recording of a much-recorded opera. Often it can give us the opportunity to hear a singer in a major role that he or she never recorded commercially—or did record on some later occasion, when the voice was no longer fresh. Often a live recording catches the dramatic flow better than certain studio recordings that may be more perfect technically.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

<em>Turandot </em>, Royal Opera House, Covent Garden
07 Jul 2017

Fairytale Spectacle: Turandot at the ROH

Andrei Serban’s 1984 production of Turandot has returned to the Royal Opera House, for its sixteenth revival, and it remains a visual feast. The principals’ raw silk costumes, intricately embroidered and patterned, splash vibrant primary hues against the shadowy tiers which house the red-masked Chorus to the rear.

Turandot, Royal Opera House, Covent Garden

A review by Claire Seymour

Above: Turandot

Photo credit: Tristram Kenton

 

Sally Jacobs’ drum-shaped balconies create a frame for Puccini’s enigmatic, imperfect masterpiece, the onlookers forming a sort of Greek Chorus, watching the horrors unfold. Baying for blood like sadistic spectators at a gladiatorial arena, they roar with relish in the opening scene as the Mandarin reads his proclamation of the impending execution of the Prince of Persia.

Despite the passing years, the oriental stylisation - visual and kinetic - remains striking. Giant, grimacing severed heads top towering poles, their blood-red streamers testifying to the agonies suffered by Turandot’s decapitated suitors. The Mandarin mounts a rolling tower to thunder his edicts and incite the crowd’s bloodlust. Emperor Altoum floats down from the fly-loft on a cloud-cushioned golden throne. There is a mammoth gong, a scything executioner’s sword, a giant whetstone transported on an elaborate dragon-cart. When the sky grows dark, in anticipation of Turandot’s delivery of her tyrannous decree, the Chorus’s invocation to the moon initiates the descent of an immense canvas moon which eclipses much of the stage.

Production image Turandot 2.jpg Photo credit: Tristram Kenton.

Revival director Andrew Sinclair has done a good job, working with original choreographer Kate Flatt, to ensure that the t’ai chi-based movements of the white-masked dancers are slick and fresh. Those ‘grotesque imperial ministers’, Ping, Pang and Pong, cavort with commedia -like outlandishness - perhaps a reminder that the inspiration for Puccini’s opera came from a commedia dell’arte play written in 1762 by Carlo Gozzi, which itself drew upon ‘The Story of Prince Calaf and the Princess of China’ from a collection of Persian fairy tales, The Thousand and One Days.

Indeed, this dialogue of cultures is relevant, for while the production resonates with myth and ritual, it’s a bit of a hotchpotch, with ‘oriental’ interpreted rather loosely (there’s a nod, surely, to Japanese Kabuki and Noh theatre), as well as a few touches of Brechtian alienation. But, this doesn’t really matter; after all, Puccini’s score is itself eclectic and episodic, juxtaposing a plurality of styles and allusions. If Serban and Jacobs have assembled a cultural smorgasbord, then it’s a beautiful and enchanting one; and the visual beauty is often powerfully and disturbingly at odds with the barbarity of the drama.

It also makes a loud impact. In Turandot, Puccini calls for huge orchestral resources, both in the pit and on stage, and conductor Dan Ettinger lets his instrumentalists off the leash. Seated in the Stalls Circle, I’m sure I felt the auditorium tremble when the death-knell drumming pounded during Turandot’s pronouncement of the riddles, and in Act 2 the brass blazed with imperial majesty. Ettinger might have reined things in a bit at times - the ‘power’ of the score was generated by turning the volume up as far as it would go, rather than through surging, well-crafted fullness of sound - as the singers were required to project over unalleviated orchestral swells.

Fortunately, the principals had the necessary vocal strength and stamina. Christine Goerke used her huge voice to capture the heartlessness of the unsympathetic ‘heroine’, who in Serban’s vision is an icy she-devil who delights in sending her hapless suitors to their grisly deaths. Goerke began ‘In questa reggia’ a little cautiously but as she proclaimed the three enigmas there was no doubting Turandot’s venom. Goerke’s soprano gained in focus as the performance proceeded and she was at her best in the final act, her voice sonorous and gleaming. There was little sense, though, of the princess’s ‘inner life’; perhaps, this inevitably remains an enigma - the opera’s unanswered riddle -but if we are to believe in Turandot’s redemption then surely we need to be permitted a little intimacy with the workings of her soul?

Turandot-ROH-2813 CHRISTINE GOERKE AS PRINCESS TURANDOT, ALEKSANDRS ANTONENKO AS CALAF (C) ROH. PHOTO BY TRISTRAM KENTON.jpgChristine Goerke (Turandot), Aleksandrs Antonenko (Calaf). Photo credit: Tristram Kenton.

Aleksandrs Antonenko was a heroic rather than chivalrous Calaf - no-one would have any chance of forty winks during this ‘Nessun dorma’ - but he placed the notes with control and pushed through the soaring lines with warm amplification. Antonenko’s didn’t really bother to act, though the large props and choreographed acrobatics didn’t leave much room for subtle engagement between the characters. In any case, it’s hard to make Calaf’s sudden enthrallment to Turandot’s ‘charms’ credible, and Antonenko was a fittingly gallant hero who brought daylight back to Turandot’s night-dominated realm and restored the patriarchal gender hierarchy.

Turandot-ROH-162 ALEKSANDRS ANTONENKO AS CALAF, IN SUNG SIM AS TIMUR, HIBLA GERZMAVA AS LIÙ (C) ROH. PHOTO BY TRISTRAM KENTON.jpg Aleksandrs Antonenko (Calaf), In Sung Sim (Timur), Hibla Gerzmava (Liù). Photo credit: Tristram Kenton.

As Liù - Puccini’s archetypal suffering heroine, subservient, innocent, self-sacrificing - Hibla Gerzmava sang with a winningly sweet tone balanced by innate strength. During her fifteen-minutes of emotional torment in the final act, Gerzmava movingly conveyed the unconditional love which underpins Liù’s purity.

Yury Yurchuk was an authoritative Mandarin, though I thought that In Sung Sim’s Timur needed a bit more nobility and stature. Robin Leggate brought out the Emperor’s gentility and regretfulness, in contrast to the vicious cruelty of Ping (Michel de Souza), Pang (Aled Hall) and Pong (Pavel Petrov), who formed a well-integrated trio but had little to distinguish them as individuals.

Turandot-ROH-701 MICHEL DE SOUZA AS PING, PAVEL PETROV AS PONG, ALED HALL AS PANG, ALEKSANDRS ANTONENKO AS CALAF (C) ROH. PHOTO BY TRISTRAM KENTON.jpgMichel de Souza (Ping), Pavel Petrov (Pong), Aled Hall (Pang), Aleksandrs Antonenko (Calaf). Photo credit: Tristram Kenton.

The main weakness of Serban’s production is that it denies us understanding of the causes of Turandot’s apparent inhumanity, and thus makes her atonement less convincing. The narration in which she explains the reasons for her misogyny, should make us understand that she speaks as an avenger, as one whose ancestress who was raped and murdered thousands of years ago. As one whose violence is retribution for the violence done by men to all women; as one determined to the be agent of her own destiny. Serban creates little sense of the emotional energies which drive the drama and shape the dynamic between Turandot and Calaf. And, the sense of emotional stasis is exacerbated by the literal stasis of the chorus - a result of lack of time to stage the Chorus in the hasty run-up to the production’s premiere as part of the 1984 Olympic Arts Festival in Los Angeles - though the ROH Chorus were, as ever, in tremendous voice as they expressed their perverted pleasure at the executioner’s bloody deeds.

Despite this misgiving, this production just about avoids the composer’s own tendency to indulge in kitsch and offers fairy-tale spectacle with some spectacular singing. A real summer treat.

Claire Seymour

Giacomo Puccini: Turandot

Princess Turandot - Christine Goerke, Calaf - Aleksandrs Antonenko, Liù - Hibla Gerzmava, Timur - In Sung Sim, Ping - Michel de Souza, Pang - Aled Hall, Pong - Pavel Petrov, Emperor Altoum - Robin Leggate, Mandarin - Yuriy Yurchuk; Director - Andrei Serban, Conductor - Dan Ettinger Designer - Sally Jacobs, Lighting designer - F. Mitchell Dana, Choreographer - Kate Flatt, Choreologist - Tatiana Novaes Coelho, Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Royal Opera Chorus (Chorus Director, William Spaulding).

Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London; Wednesday 5th July 2017.

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):