Hmm… Turandot. What really can you say about an opera when all three leads suffer from different mental illnesses? I mean, seriously, Calaf develops an instant infatuation with Turandot on first laying eyes on her, to the point he allows others who he is supposed to love and care for to die so he can win her. Turandot refuses to allow herself to love anyone and lives out her life seeking revenge on men in general for their treatment of her ancestor who was raped. And Liu? Well, she out of love, chooses to die, than reveal the name of the man she loves, despite the fact that he does not return it, and has no intention of doing so. That is three seriously fucked up individuals right there.
But, for all that, Puccini wrote some amazing music when writing for Turandot. Maybe suffering really does bring out the best art? Who knows, but Turandot is a superb piece of opera writing, and we all owe a thanks to Puccini for it…
So, onto this performance… What was it like you say?
Well, funny you should ask that…. Allow me to state from the start, this was the production of any in Australia that I was probably looking forward to the most this year. I saw this production many years ago when the ABC used to show opera and other performing arts on sunday nights on TV. This production was one of the standouts, even on a black and white TV (Yes, we got colour really late)
When Graeme Murphy and Kristian Fredrikson put this production together all those years ago, they did it very much as an act of love. This was an opera they had been eager to work on, and it shows in their gorgeous sets, costumes and staging. This is never a simple park and bark production, but rather one where people constantly move, where the chorus is used not just to fill the stage, but to inform relationships by their actions and to provide visual interest. They also sounded great, by the way.
Now, about the soloists, first, a comment. This is an opera where the difference between stunning and competent is phenomenally expensive. Both Turandots and Calafs who can sing the roles well can pretty much write their own check. There is really only ever a couple of people singing Turandot at any time, who can do it true justice. Turandot is like the Everest of roles for Italianate dramatic sopranos. Now Susan Foster is no Ghena Demitriova or Eva Marton, but she is pretty damn fine in this role for Sydney, which is a small house. Granted, in her first big sing, I was thinking she was going to run out of voice and possibly high notes, as she seemed to be already at her limit. However, I am pleased to say, there was something in reserve, and she did hit the top notes with out the splat or cracks I was expecting. After the first part of the Riddle Song, I never felt that nervous about her again. I did however notice a tendency of when she quietened her voice of becoming inaudible, which I suspect was more due to a lack of familiarity with the house she was singing in, than anything, or a lack of advice from the musical staff. She certainly had the necessary loudness when needed, being able to soar over the chorus in full voice when needed. Did she display the subtlety of others in this role? Did she really melt and become the warm fully human loving woman the role calls for at the end? Well, there was definitely a softening, but I was not convinced fully, though sitting at the back of the opera does make such things hard to judge.
As the next mad person, Rosario La Spina was something I was looking forward to. His first act seemed a little disappointing, as if he was having an off night, or if he was just not warmed up enough. I suspect the later, because by the second act, he was the thrilling Italian tenor I was expecting. Considering some of the tenor voices I have heard used by OperaAustralia and others, his is a real thrill, powerful, pingy and consistent of line. To be sure, I have heard more beautiful voices, but those are going to remain beyond the price of OperaAustralia sadly. In the meantime, we have Rosario, and I for one am much happier with him than with some of the tenors they used in the past (Here I refuse to name another Aussie who they used repeatedly in the past, who badly needed to relearn his technique) To be honest, his is a role to be the reckless person risking all for love, and he was believable as that. To be sure, that sounds like most tenor roles, but he did do it very well.
As Liu, I was a little disappointed at first that we had Daria Masiero and not Hyeseoung Kwon. As anyone who has heard her knows, Hyeseoung OWNS this role. I heard her do it at opera in the domain 2 years ago, and she moved me to tears, even over the PA and all. With her beautiful voice in the theatre there would be no dry eyes when she kills herself. Now, Daria did nothing wrong, just her voice is not as stunning as Hyeseoung. Not bad, far from it, just no one comes close to Hyeseoung at the moment, though I would imagine Rachelle Durkin could probably give her a good run for her money in the role. Hyeseoung is probably worth going again for when she takes over the role at the end of February.
As the trio of P's, we had Andrew Moran, David Corcoran and Graeme Macfarlane providing a strong trio of performers, and making me wonder how I missed hearing about Andrew Moran. He is clearly a performer to watch out for with a rich baritone voice, possibly the strongest of the three, although David Corcoran's pingy tenor came close. The trio scene in this production remains a beautiful rest from the dramas of the opera, and is full of visual interest, unlike what happens in some productions.
I also have to make mention of the Emperor of Warren Fisher. While I dislike this role going to a young singer, I have to say, well sung Warren. It is also great to see you making an impression in OperaAustralia, after singing with you in amateur productions in the past.
So, ultimately, my thoughts? If you get the chance, go see this production. It is that rare thing, a night at the opera when you do not have any real criticism to make, when everything works together to bring a story to life. And really, what more could you hope for?