Monday, June 13, 2011

Absolutely Agog: "Oh! Hope. Blood and Turandot!"

I'm not exaggerating this, Friendlies... the moment I found out that soprano Christine Brewer was going to be debuting at the Hollywood Bowl singing none other than Puccini's Turandot, I went bananas. I posted on Twitter. I posted on Facebook. I sent out text messages. Basically, the only thing I didn't do was open my 11th floor window and shout down to the street level (although, let's be honest ... we all know I contemplated it).

That's right! On July 17 at the hallowed Hollywood Bowl, Brewer sings the title role of Turandot in a concert performance with the Los Angeles Philharmonic under Maestro Gustavo "Wunderkind" Dudamel. The performance marks the first time Brewer - who, according to the San Francisco Classical Voice, has a phenomenally outsized instrument marked by lustrous tone, rich coloration, and laser-like precision - will have sung Puccini’s Chinese princess. It also marks Dudamel’s first time conducting a Puccini opera.

All of this talk put me in the mood for my favorite Puccini. And, it just so happens that I had one in my back pocket waiting for a little spin through the DVD player. It heralds from a 1983 Vienna Statsoper production conducted by Lorin Maazel with Hungarian soprano Eva Marton as Turandot, Jose Carreras as Calaf and Katia Ricciarelli as Liu.

Last Thursday, I was home with my 6 1/2 year old daughter who had a day off from school. I thought to myself: I'll throw in this little thing and see what she thinks about it. She's about as obsessed as I am. She read every single subtitle out-loud as though she were doing a reading for the casting agents of Annie. Later that evening after her mother got home, I asked "Hey - I have a question: What were the answers to Turandot's three riddles?" [Spoiler Alert!] Without hesitation, she replied "Oh! Hope. Blood and Turandot!" She then proceeded to recount the entire plot to her mom. No. Joke. The girl then chose this very DVD of Turandot to be the Feature Presentation of our weekly "Movie Night" the following evening.

If you plan to watch, and clearly you should plan to watch, be warned - the production is stereotypically operatic. That is to say that those who have become accustomed to the newer HD Broadcasts will see more "park and bark" than they're probably used to. Additionally, movements are theatrical in nature so, they seem a little more exaggerated on TV than they would in the theater.

In this production, a 37 year old Jose Carreras delivers a helluvah Calaf - his voice strong and well matched to Marton's Turandot... not an easy feat by any means.

It takes a very specialized voice to sing Turandot and Marton, who made her career singing the role, had it - although she looks like she's working pretty hard in a couple of places. Who am I to judge, though? Turandot appears and the first thing out of her mouth is the unforgiving aria "In questa reggia" ... followed by launching herself into the operatic stratosphere to sing the 3 riddles. I can forgive a little look of difficulty.

Katia Ricciarelli disappoints as Liu. I've never really been a fan of her voice. In fact, if it were up to me to give her a Native American inspired name, it would be: soprano-always-sings-flat.

I do heartily recommend this DVD version of Puccini's final opera. Not only is it old-school-Puccini through and through - but, the translations are quite good ... especially when read by a 6 1/2 year old. ;-)

If you happen to be looking for a Turandot that has a cast of currently working singers or one that is perhaps in HD, I would tell you that take a gander at the Zeffirelli production featuring Maria Guleghina as the Ice Princess and Marcello Giordani as Calaf. Patrick Mack wrote for parterre.com:
In what may qualify as the most unholy alliance of Peter Gelb‘s tenure at the Met so far, since February the “Live in HD” performances from 2009 of both Turandot and Aida issued by Decca have been available from… Target. Only Target. They are scheduled for international release this July. Up until recently there has been no mention on Decca’s or The Met’s website of either. It’s like the first Mrs. Rochester hidden away. Also, they’re both a bargain at $19.99 a piece...

...First, I have to confess that I worship this Zeffirelli production of Turandot. It’s nouveau riche tacky like a lottery winner. It’s Vegas. Florenz Ziegfeld would have wept. To the uninitiated among us a production like this can inspire a cataclysmic, religious conversion to the art form. It is Oz. The act two set change is captured here perfectly. The camera pulls back from Ping, Pang and Pong departing their abode into the darkened theater so that when the lights come up on the palace and the populace you get it right between the eyes with both barrels. I was verklempt. This DVD is opera porn.

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