ConcertNorth East & YorkshireOperaReview

Turandot – Town Hall, Leeds

Music: Giacomo Puccini (Act III – Franco Alfano)

Director: Annabel Arden

Reviewer: Dawn Smallwood

Turandot is last of Puccini’s operas and is based on Carlo Gozzi’s play of the same name.  This season, Opera North is staging this new production in a concert format following the successful Wagner’s Ring Cycle last summer.  This is an opportunity to appreciate Puccini’s rich musical score with the characters, orchestra and chorus assembling together at the same time on stage.

Puccini and Giuseppe Adami set the libretto to Gozzi’s play and the opera premiered in 1926 in Milan.  Set in ancient China, the story is about Prince Calaf who falls in love with the cold hearted Princess Turandot.  Turandot agrees to marry if Calaf is able to solve the three riddles she gives him.  Death is threatened for any wrong answer, as with previous suitors.  Calaf solves the riddles but still is unable to marry Turandot and he offers her a deal in that she is able to identify his name before dawn the following day, then he will die soon after. 

The musical composition is rich with a wide variety of musical instruments, particularly with its extended percussion section, being played; the music delicately interprets the Chinese culture with well known melodies that is associated with Turandot and the use of gongs to emphasise the dramatic story throughout.  Under the musical direction of Sir Richard Armstrong, the story unfolds with melodic and harmonic music and libretto.  The cast, led by Rafael Rojas (Calaf) and Orla Boylan (Turandot), sings well known arias such as the confrontational Tu che di gel sei cinta and the proclaiming Nessun Dorma by Rojas.

The opera shares insight of the Orient culture including ancestry, symbolic numbers and superstition and fits into the dramatic story of a woman whose ancestors shape her cold though rather complex personality, barbaric actions and fate with regards to love.  The story through Turandot indirectly raises the issue of women and their role and how this was perceived in what was then a patriarchal society.  Turandot has the right ingredients for a tragedy as the plot unfolds; however, there is no foregone conclusion, just simply unanswered questions and an invitation for the audience to interpret to what happens next.

Annabel Arden directs this production where a talented cast gives a stellar performance of Turandot and is supported by the Chorus of Opera North who work in unison with the leading characters.  Joanna Parker’s effective staging gives the opera the impetus it deserves with specific attention to its music as much as its story telling and its positioning of the characters on stage.  Richard Moore’s lighting compliments the stage with emphasis given to the individual characters, the chorus and the orchestra during the opera.

Turandot’s reputation is known for its music, and the right choice is certainly made to stage the opera as a concert.  It is a certainly a modern opera, with themes relevant today as when it was first premiered.  Sung in Italian with English surtitles, this is an enjoyable opportunity for opera fans to appreciate Puccini’s rich musical composition and his collaborative libretto.

Reviewed on 28 April 2017 | Image: Tristram Kenton

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