Turandot, Puccini, Royal Opera House, London
Tuesday 23 December 2008
How ironic that the one Puccini opera left unfinished at his death should end (or so it was deemed by those responsible for the finishing touches) with what has become the greatest of his hits – “Nessun dorma”.
Mind you, Turandot is big on irony, most of it dispensed by Ping, Pang, and Pong, the jolly trio from old Peking’s ministry of executions, and in Andrei Serban’s now almost legendary Royal Opera staging, given here on the very day of the composer’s 150th anniversary, they are very much the life and soul of the party.
Party? Well, Serban’s point is that the forbidden city is very much in love with the death; it celebrates death. And so revival director Jeremy Sutcliffe rolls out the ceremonial, exotic masked dancers caught in the sensual slow motion of Kate Flatt’s choreography, gliding like spectres across the arena of death while the populace roar their approval from the terraces of Sally Jacobs’ still striking set. It’s deservedly become one of the Royal Opera’s most durable success and since its premiere in the year of the Los Angeles Olympics, 1984, it has seen many Turandots come and go. The latest of them, Irene Theorin, succumbed to a cold on opening night (occupational hazard for an ice princess) and was hurriedly replaced by Elizabeth Connell, currently singing the role of the Mother in the new production of Hansel und Gretel.
Turandot’s mother? Well, let’s just say that Connell has been around the block a few times. But here she was, stepping up to the plate like a true star, and, I have to say, sounding better than she has in years. In a role which so often falls prey to big-voiced screamers on their way down the slippery slope to oblivion, Connell’s way into her taxing entrance aria “In questa reggia” was notable for what one might call “sleight of voice”. She used chest and glottal stop colours to explosive effect, the words – and in particular the consonants – lending a steely serrated edge to her imperiousness. It was quite a showing and culminated, in the line “His name is Love”, with a truly shining placement of the crucial top note. How rarely one hears it ping like that.
It was a good night, too, for Jose Cura, well suited to the craggy heroics of Calaf, dark and strong in the middle voice and wholehearted in that aria. And Svetla Vassileva’s Liu, generous of voice and well-practised in the floated diminuendo-crescendos that characterise the role, traditionally upstaged everyone, even in death. Conductor Nicola Luisotti had the sweep and swoon and shimmer of a score that makes love and death almost indistinguishable.
Final Top Gear reviewTV
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Nathan Collier: Montana man inspired by same-sex marriage ruling requests right to wed two wives
- 2 People all over the world are getting semicolon tattoos to draw attention to mental health
- 3 Van driver who comforted Clark Carlisle and called 999 after suicide attempt dies age 24
- 4 James Blunt was special guest on the highest-rating Top Gear episode ever
- 5 The biggest first date turnoff has been revealed
Nathan Collier: Montana man inspired by same-sex marriage ruling requests right to wed two wives
Greece crisis: IMF was pushed around by Angela Merkel and Nicholas Sarkozy – and now it is being humiliated
'I wish the BBC would stop calling it Islamic State' – David Cameron unleashes frustration at broadcaster
Forget little green men – aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert
Girl, 7, stares down hate preacher at Ohio festival with pro-LGBT rainbow flag gesture
Sickness and disability benefits could be reduced by £30 a week as part of £12bn welfare cuts