Turandot Opera in three acts
[Libretto by Giuseppe Adami & Renato Simoni after the play Turandotte by Carlo Gozzi; sung in Italian with English Met Titles by Francis Rizzo]
Turandot Erika Sunnegårdh
Liù Hei-Kyong Hong
Calàf Richard Margison
Timur Oren Gradus
Emperor Altorum Charles Anthony
Ping Earle Patriarco
Pang Tony Stevenson
Pong Eduardo Valdes
The Metropolitan Opera Chorus
The Orchestra of the Metropolitan Orchestra
Franco Zeffirelli Original production
David Kneuss Revival director
Franco Zeffirelli Set design
Anna Anni & Dada Saligeri Costume design
Gil Wechsler Lighting design
Reviewed by: Elizabeth Barnette
Reviewed: 5 April, 2007
Venue: The Metropolitan Opera, New York City
In opera one assumes that the singers are the stars. Sometimes a work even gets staged to showcase a particular diva, such as Deborah Voigt in Metropolitan Opera’s current production of Richard Strauss’s “Die Ägyptische Helena”.
Strange as it may seem then, the main attraction of this “Turandot” is not the leading singers. Erika Sunnegårdh, who is scheduled to sing the title role later in the cycle, had to step in early to replace an indisposed Andrea Gruber. She has a very clear, almost piercing voice, but when one compares her to the likes of Birgit Nilsson, she sounded thin and came up short in the vocal power one expects to hear from the Chinese princess. Her rather rotund and ungainly suitor, Prince Calàf, sung by Richard Margison, unfortunately did not do any better. Although he tried mightily to come up with the goods, the effort showed, especially in the high register, where pure force alone cannot produce a ringing sound. Hei-Kyong Hong’s Liù turned out to be the most satisfying of the major roles. Although slightly tentative in ‘Signore ascolta’ in the first act, she gave a dramatically and vocally gripping portrait of the devoted slave by the time of the third.
The minor roles of Ping, Pang and Pong were very well sung and acted; Oren Gradus was a dignified and resonant King Timur, while Charles Anthony as Emperor Altorum affected the whiny, nasal style of Chinese Opera.
In this particular production, however, most of the musical excitement and drama did not come from the soloists, but from the impact of Puccini’s powerful score. The Metropolitan Opera Chorus sang impressively, and the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra played masterfully under Fabio Luisi. He proved again that he is a most insightful conductor, passionately imposing both overall structure and exquisite detail on the music.
Equally impressive is the production itself, rivalling, in the most positive sense of the word, a Broadway show – exquisitely crafted sets on a grand scale, carefully choreographed crowd scenes, impressive costumes, great lighting. The huddled masses scurry around at the beginning of the opera, and later, in a spectacle complete with acrobats and a menacing headsman, turn into the bloodthirsty populace calling for the head of the Prince of Persia, who makes his entrance clad in gold robes; meanwhile Turandot’s palatial chamber gradually rises in the background.
The greatest spectacle is reserved for the second act, inside Turandot’s palace. When this set was revealed, the audience literally gasped and started applauding vigorously. It is a scene of grandiosity and splendor in gold, pale yellow and white. Emperor Altorum, clad in black, is seated on a throne way up high in the back, flanked by pavilions. The rest of the stage is taken up by sets of stairs, a reflecting pool in the middle, guards, warriors, priests, and a ballet of young women, all magnificently and meticulously attired. One feels transported to one of the great historical movies – Franco Zeffirelli as the Cecil B. DeMille of opera. Strauss’s ‘Helena’ has to rely on great singing to help forget the distressing production. “Turandot” provides so many other enjoyable features that in the end the less than ideal casting for the major roles is only a minor distraction.
- The current production opened on March 30; future performance dates are April 9, 14, 16, 19, 21 & 25, and May 3 and 8
- Metropolitan Opera