Review: Seattle Opera’s “Turandot,” August 4
By Melinda Bargreen
Seattle Opera’s summer production is typically a blockbuster, and the new “Turandot” is about as spectacular as opera gets. The sets! The costumes! The cast of thousands!
And, oh yes, the singing and the orchestra: the company has not forgotten its raison d’être in this extravaganza. With Asher Fisch on the podium, the musical values are never secondary to the visual excitement on the stage.
The company was to have presented Wagner’s “Parsifal” in this time slot, as part of a long-term Seattle Opera plan to revisit the great Wagnerian operas in the last years of the tenure of the company’s general director, Speight Jenkins (who will step down in August of 2014). Unfortunately, the recession and the company’s related fiscal shortfalls have made necessary some retrenchments over the past two summers – much to the disappointment of worldwide Wagnerites.
But this “Turandot” certainly doesn’t look or sound like a bargain-basement production. The cast ranges from serviceable to excellent. The orchestra has never sounded better, thanks to vivid and pulse-pounding leadership from conductor Asher Fisch. The stage is filled with opulence: gorgeous and highly effective sets and costumes (by André Barbe), brilliantly lit (especially in the Act I moonrise scene) by Guy Simard. All this draws the audience immediately into the action. And there is plenty of action: vivid choreography and staging by Renaud Doucet, who fills the stage right down to the inch with a “cast of thousands” effect: principal singers, choristers, dancers, spear-carriers, lots of flashing knives and almost continuous motion. There’s never a dull moment on the stage; the crowd scene at the finale of Ac II was
Lori Phillips was an impressive Turandot, delivering the vocal goods with a thrilling, silvery heft to her soprano and a commanding top register. She did full credit to Barbe’s costumes, too (though I’m not so sure about the lurid red eyeshadow – hardly a look that does credit to the famously beautiful Turandot). Her Prince Calaf, Antonello Palombi, provided a stentorian tenor that showed to great advantage in the opera’s most famous aria, “Nessun dorma.” And as the ill-fated slave girl Liu, soprano Lina Tetriani had all the best lines (and all the audience’s sympathies), and she made the most of them. Peter Rose was particularly effective as Calaf’s father, Timur, wringing the heart with his vivid portrayal.
The comic roles of Ping, Pang, and Pong were staged with wit and flair, right down to an umbrella dance routine straight out of vaudeville. Patrick Carfizzi (Ping) gave the trio a strong lead, with Julius Ahn (Pang) and Joseph Hu (Pong) merrily following suit in scenes that provided humorous balance to the tragic elements of Liu’s death and all those beheaded suitors.
Ashraf Sewailam was an appropriately stentorian Mandarin, setting the stage with several vital pronouncements. Peter Kazaras had the costume of the evening in his tremendous headdress and ceremonial robes, but the inevitable disadvantage of his placement at the back of the stage meant that it was harder to hear him.
Beth Kirchhoff’s chorus (and children’s chorus) took advantage of their many opportunities to set the scene, comment on the action, and demonstrate their excellence.
In an earlier interview, Fisch called this “Turandot” an ideal first opera for the young and the novice operagoer. We tested the concept by bringing along a young visiting relative on her 11th birthday. She was riveted throughout the show; when the curtain went down on Act I she was disappointed because “I didn’t want it to stop – I wanted it to keep on going.” That pretty much says it all.