In its silver anniversary, the Met’s “Turandot” emerges golden

September 27, 2012
By Paul J. Pelkonen

Maria Guleghina in the title role of Puccini’s “Turandot.” Photo: Marty Sohl/Metropolitan Opera

The Metropolitan Opera celebrates the 25th anniversary of the
company’s over-the-top 1987 Franco Zeffirelli production of Puccini’s
Turandot this year. At Wednesday’s opening night, the show
looked and sounded surprisingly fresh, serving as a gilt framework for an evening of tremendous vocal performances from the three principals.

Turandot is a popular opera with a bad rep. Puccini’s uneasy fusion of post-Wagnerian musical ideas, Italian lyricism and commedia dell’arte doesn’t always work. Too often, the whole opera seems like an
elaborate couch for the big hits: Liu’s Signor, ascolta, Turandot’s In questa reggia and, of course, that tenor aria to end all tenor arias, Nessun dorma.

Maria Guleghina has sung the short but demanding title role of this
opera twelve times at the Met over the last three years. She sounded
comfortable with its myriad challenges Wednesday, tossing off heroic high notes and acting the part of the ice princess with appropriate menace. All the big top notes were intact for In questa reggia, which proved to be the start of a memorable, marathon performance for the Ukrainian soprano.

Guleghina navigated the crucial transformation of the character in the
difficult third act, made more challenging since Puccini never lived
to write the opera’s ending. Franco Alfano’s completion of Act III is
usually treated as a necessary evil by singers and conductors. But on
Wednesday night, Turandot’s sudden understanding of compassion and
love was dramatically believable, thanks to Guleghina’s performance
and careful, sensitive leadership from Dan Ettinger in the pit.

As Calaf, tenor Marco Berti displayed heroic, ringing tone that should
keep him singing this role at the Met for some time. He was able to
cut through the mass of chorus and orchestra in the big Act I
climaxes. He stood his vocal ground against the Princess in the Act II
riddle scene. Nessun dorma ended on a ringing high C, and the final duet with Turandot had moments of power and sensitivity.

The star-making turn of the evening was Russian soprano Hibla Gerzvana, who brought new dimensions to the doomed slave-girl Lìu. She floated phrases beautifully in Signor, ascolta, and sang the death scene with the pathos one expects from a Puccini heroine.

James Morris used his veteran bass-baritone to good effect as Timur, with touching soft notes in that same scene. Baritone Dwayne Croft was luxury casting in the small role of Ping.

The Zeffirelli production is an elaborate reconstruction of this
decidedly Italianate vision of legendary China. The huge sets gleamed
with fresh paint and polish, and the sometimes balky Met stage
carriages functioned smoothly all night. Small glitches in this show
(like the creaking walkways in the first act) seemed to be repaired
and tightened up for the production’s silver anniversary, restoring it to its place as one of the company’s most popular attractions.

Turandot runs through January 10. Irene Theorin will sing the title role from October 30 with Marcello Giordani (Oct. 30-Nov. 9) and Walter Fraccaro (Jan. 2-10) as Calaf.

4 Responses to “In its silver anniversary, the Met’s “Turandot” emerges golden”

  1. Posted Sep 27, 2012 at 1:17 pm by Ricky

    A few comments: There is no high C in Nessun Dorma, the penultimate tone is a B-natural and the last note an A-natural. There is an optional high C for Calaf towards the end of the second act. And a high C with Turandot at the end of In questa reggia.

    Nice to hear that Dwayne Croft sang Ping. Although calling it a small role is misleading. It might not be a star turn but there is quite a lot of music to sing.

  2. Posted Sep 27, 2012 at 8:29 pm by Ron

    The climatic top note at the end of “Nessun dorma” is a high A…not a C; he touches a high B right before it. There is no high C in the aria.

  3. Posted Sep 27, 2012 at 10:31 pm by isepo

    “All the big top notes were intact for In questa reggia…”

    Well apparently you missed her high Bs; the first of many (“quel grido”) she goosed her diaphragm so hard, her chords blew apart, and you could hear air rushing in her sound. The resulting effect even scared my companion, who is an opera-neophyte. Apparently he can instinctively tell what’s good and bad singing.

    “careful, sensitive leadership from Dan Ettinger in the pit.”

    If you’re at all familiar with a) Puccini’s score or b) 20th century Puccini performance tradition, Dan Ettinger stretched the music completely out of shape, taking leaden tempi and often going contrary to Puccini’s musical directions. Puccini gives very detailed directions on how to pace his music, and Ettinger willfully ignored many of them. It was a prime example of how over-indulgent interpretation gives Puccini a bad rap.

    All in all, a poorly researched, ill-informed, cliche-ridden review.

  4. Posted Sep 28, 2012 at 3:26 am by S Daniel

    I saw the HD version of this, but even more magically, I saw it in person at the Met in January 2010, from the 4th row, center. It is such a magical production, just eye-popping. And it’s excellent to see it so well sung too. Glad to hear it’s still rolling along in fine style.