Turandot, opera review

Royal Opera House, London

Andrei Serban’s production of Puccini’s last opera is thirty years old and in its sixteenth revival – enough to make one fear for its safety, since shows of this vintage are now an endangered species.

Last year ENO replaced the perennially durable Hytner Flute with a production so idiosyncratic that it could only be revived by the new director’s personal team; last week ENO binned Jonathan Miller’s perfect Rigoletto to make way for a misshapen version nobody will want to see again.

When Covent Garden junked the Zeffirelli Tosca after 42 years, it was for a very pale substitute. 

With Andrew Sinclair as revival director for Turandot, Sally Jacobs’ magnificent designs and Kate Flatt’s Orientalist choreography emerge bandbox fresh; the show’s exoticism may be stereotyped, but only the way the music is, as brightly-coloured pageantry.

American soprano Ailyn Perez, the new Liu, ensures that the scene of the slave-girl’s self-sacrifice becomes the heart of the drama, while the British bass Matthew Rose evinces a noble, broken majesty as the deposed king Timur. Alfred Kim’s resonant Calaf and Irene Theorin’s Turandot play beautifully off each other, her tone softening and gaining luminosity as the music does, under Nicola Luisotti’s sensitive beat.