Fathom Events' Met Opera's "Turandot": Ice Aged

The Metroplitan Opera's "Turandot"
(photo: Met Opera)

When opera goes grand, it can be almost overwhelmingly so. In the current Metropolitan Opera production of Puccini's Turandot, this is made abundantly clear in its spectacularly ornate Set Design by Franco Zeffirelli. Along with the sumptuous Costume Design by Anna Anni and Dada Saligeri, as well as the literally brilliant Lighting Design by Gil Wechsler, it commands our attention from the moment the curtain is first raised. Ironically, the lasting impact of the work depends on how effective it is on a human scale, where a once triumphant regal, even icy, princess melts at the discovery of true love. It's a challenging demand on singers who must convey natural emotions on a supernatural canvas. Add to this the fact that the title character first appears remote and unreachable, but must ultimately reveal a touching vulnerability. All this must take place convincingly despite the ying-yang of a complex setting and a rather simple story.

In ancient China, Princess Turandot (soprano Nina Stemme) has decreed that anyone wishing to marry her must try to answer three riddles; failure will result in death. When this edict is announced to the crowds, among them are the slave Liu (soprano Anita Hartig), her blind elderly master, and Calaf (tenor Marco Berti), who recognizes the aged master as his long-lost father, Timur (bass-baritone Alexander Tsymbalyuk), defeated King of Tartary. They all watch as the latest attempted suitor, the Prince of Persia, is sent to his death by the icy princess. Awed by her beauty, Calaf strikes the gong that announces his intention to guess the answers to the three riddles, though even Turandot's three ministers, Ping (baritone Dwayne Croft), Pang (tenor Tony Stevenson) and Pong (tenor Eduardo Valdes), try to discourage him. Calaf persists, however, and correctly guesses the answers. Yet he gives Turandot a chance for a reprieve, if she is able to name him by dawn's arrival, which would send him to his death. Liu, who has always loved Calaf, refuses under torture to reveal his name, and stabs herself to death rather than do so. When they are left alone, the Princess suddenly knows love when Calaf kisses her. He reveals his name, and Turandot then proclaims she now can announce his true name, which is Love.

In this HD broadcast performance, Stemme was stupendous, icy when needed and warm at last, her singing of her aria “in questa reggia“ about the violation of her female ancestor a highpoint. While Berti may have lacked full emotional impact in the famous “nessun dorma” his signing was also exemplary. The heartfelt role of Liu, with Hartig portraying a noble sacrifice with careful attention to the composer's lush score, was lovely. Tsymbalyuk was yet another plus, as were the trio of Croft, Stevenson and Valdes. Once again the Metropolitan Opera Chorus shone under the careful direction of Chorusmaster Donald Palumbo. Conductor Paolo Carignani did justice to the lovely music, perhaps Puccini at his most effective. The capable Live in HD Director Barbara Willis Sweete made things run smoothly, as did Live in HD Host Renee Fleming.

It was a wonderfully balanced performance all around, making for a particularly memorable addition to the current season. When it works, as it certainly did here, it can be difficult to single out what made it so special, which can sometimes be an intangible mystery...and you only get three guesses.

The broadcast of "Turandot" will be repeated this Wednesday February 3rd at a theater near you.

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