Saturday, 15 July 2017

'Turandot' at the Royal Opera House

Last week we went back to the venerable Royal Opera House to see a performance of 'Turandot' by Mr Puccini. It was his last opera and wasn't finished when he died so no-one really knows if the finished opera is as how he intended it but I don't mind, it's a 'biggie' and worthy of a look. This was the 277th performance of the opera at the Royal Opera House - I really like that they include details like that in their cast lists and programmes. This production was first staged in 1984.

Turandot is Princess of China and has decreed that she will only marry a prince who can answer three riddles. No-one can, of course, so they are put to death, the latest being the Prince of Persia. There's a riot baying for blood outside the royal palace in old Peking and that's when we meet Timur, the deposed king of Tartary, who is reunited with his son Calaf and they're both saved by the slave-girl Liu who is secretly in love with Calaf since he once smiled at her (as you do). Calaf sees Turandot as she is carried through the streets of Peking and falls for her, determined to take the riddles task and marry her.

Despite others trying to persuade him otherwise he refuses to change his mind and, luckily answers the riddles correctly. Turandot flies into a rage and refuses to honour her part of the bargain so Calaf offers her a chance in that if she can find out his name by dawn he will be at her mercy. Turandor orders her soldiers to torture and kill the people of Peking to find out his name and brave Liu is captured and kills herself so she can't reveal his name. Calaf does nothing to help her and lost my sympathy - him and bitch queen Turandor deserve each other. Before dawn Calaf tells Turandot his name and they 'lay down together' - which I assume means he rapes her since she wouldn't do that voluntarily. And somehow she discovers love and, at dawn declares his name to be 'Love' and they embrace. It's a very odd ending but I was pleased with Timur leading out the cart with Liu's body in it and across the stage to show us who the true heroine was. Brave Liu.

The staging was gorgeous with lovely sets and colourful costumes and, of course, the singing was excellent. I followed the tale by reading the words to the songs in the surtitles above the stage. I didn't like the character of Turandot at all and her conversion to love at the end wasn't terribly well handled.  I did, however, love the three 'comic' characters of Ping, Pong and Pang who kept the story moving and danced and sung their way through the opera. I particularly liked their sequence at the start of the second act when they sang about their homelands and wished they could go back there, to their gardens and bamboo groves. I thought that was particularly lovely. I can't quite forgive them for torturing Liu though. The real heroine of the show was Liu who killed herself for love which seems to be an ongoing theme in Puccini operas.

Aleksandra Kurzak sang Liu, Roberto Alagna sang Calaf, the Unknown Prince, and Lise Lindstrom was Turandot. I'm also name-checking Leon Kosavic, Samuel Sakker and David Junghoon Kim as the three colourful, comic characters that moved me. I must also give a shout out to the Royal Opera Chorus of about 60 singers that created such a great noise that filled that grand old hall to the rafters. Well done all, I was most impressed. I might now have a new favourite opera...

No comments: