Friday, April 24, 2009

Turandot, Amphitheatre Productions, NCH

Turandot, Puccini's last and originally incomplete opera was performed at the National Concert Hall on Saturday 11th April by Ellen Kent and Amphitheatre Productions. The stage was impressive. Beyond the orchestral pit rose a small dais draped with glistening silk, and a bronze gong. There were two tiers of classical architecture each several meters high, like a miniature cross section of a Hollywood coliseum. It was a sensational structure and I was anxious for high drama.

The opera describes the courting of Turandot, the cold hearted princess of China (Galina Bernaz) by the smitten foreign prince Caraf (Irakli Grigali). Turandot, a bit frigid over some ancestral violation, won't have a husband and so demands that all suitors solve three riddles or be decapitated. Caraf takes the bait, lord knows what he sees in her, but beats the challenge.

The princess is outraged so Caraf decides not to force her to wed and instead offers a riddle of his own. If she can find his name before dawn - at this point nobody knows him except his father and a serving girl, who secretly loves him - then she can have his head. If she fails, she must marry. Turandot agrees and cries 'no one sleeps!' or 'Nessun Dorma!'. And so follows the male aria, laboured but efficient. Poor Grigali looked like a beetroot but even though his voice was nearly drowned by the orchestra it was a powerful delivery.

Liu (Zarui Vardanean), the serving girl mentioned above, is interrogated by the Chinese princess and executed. Not the most adorable trait for a fiance, but Caraf doesn't seem to mind. Here ends Puccini's work.

Yep, Puccini got fed up. It was musically flawed. Liu's role had superseded Turandot's and he felt the project had run out of steam. Then he died of cancer. It was completed by Franco Alfano and if you ever watch the opera it is easy to tell where Puccini ends and Alfano begins. It's right at the point when nothing makes sense.

After Liu is executed for not telling the princess his name, Caraf coughs it up anyway. Before Turandot has him killed, he grabs her and sticks his tongue down her throat. Viola! She falls in love with him. The End.


For me the male principals carried the cast. Their vocals were tight and booming. However, the performance was deficient in another way. There was a general sense of distraction as though the cast were still in rehearsal. The 3 sages sounded out of key, or at least their awkward checks to the conductor established a smidgeon of doubt. In fact, barring Vardanean, everyone seemed preoccupied with the conductor’s cues. It was as if their desire to keep time had threatened them from their roles, a result better suited to the recording studio than the stage.

I felt there was more to be done and secretly hoped they were saving themselves for Monday’s performance of Aida.

DIARIT: 6/10

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