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Puccini: Turandot / Guleghina, Giordani, Mehta [blu-ray]

Puccini / Guleghina / Giordani / Mehta
Release Date: 11/17/2009 
Label:  C Major   Catalog #: 700404  
Composer:  Giacomo Puccini
Performer:  Marco BertiMaria GuleghinaAlexia VoulgaridouFabio Previati,   ... 
Conductor:  Zubin Mehta
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Valencia Community OrchestraValencia Regional Government Choir
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

Note: This Blu-ray Disc is only playable on Blu-ray Disc players, and not compatible with standard DVD players.

Giacomo Puccini
(Blu-ray Disc Version)

Turandot – Maria Guleghina
Altoum – Javier Agulló
Timur – Alexander Tsymbalyuk
Calaf – Marco Berti
Liù – Alexia Voulgaridou
Ping – Fabio Previati
Pang – Vincenç Esteve
Pong – Roger Padullés
Un mandarino – Ventseslav Anastasov

Valencia Regional Government Choir (Cor de la Gegneralitat Valenciana)
Valencian Community Orchestra (Orquestra de la Comunitat Valenciana)
Zubin Mehta, conductor

Chen Kai-ge,
Read more stage director

Recorded live from the Palau de les arts "Reina Sofía", Valencia, 2008.

Bonus feature:
- The Making of Turandot

Picture format: Blu-ray Full HD
Sound format: PCM Stereo / DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 (opera) / Dolby Digital 2.0 (bonus)
Region code: 0 (worldwide)
Subtitles: Italian, English, German, French, Spanish (opera) / English (bonus)
Running time: 120 mins (opera) + 36 mins (bonus)
No. of Discs: 1 (Blu-ray)

R E V I E W:


PUCCINI Turandot Zubin Mehta, cond; Maria Guleghina ( Turandot ); Marco Berti ( Calaf ); Alexia Voulgaridou ( Liù ); Alexander Tsymbalyuk ( Timur ); Fabio Previati ( Ping ); Vincenç Esteve ( Pang ); Roger Padullés ( Pong ); Javier Agulló ( Altoum ); Generalitat Valenciana Ch, Comunitat Valenciana O C MAJOR/UNITEL CLASSICA 700404 (Blu-ray: 120:00) Live: 5/2008

& The Making of Turandot (36:00)

The new opera house in Valencia is nothing if not ambitious. Its eye-opening Ring cycle, begun in 2007 and completed in 2009, will be reviewed soon; meanwhile, we have this extravagant production of Turandot from 2008, recorded during the Festival of the Mediterranean that follows the regular season. It was perhaps a daring choice to put the production in the hands of film director Chen Kaige, best known in the west for Farewell My Concubine —Kaige doesn’t read music and doesn’t have prior operatic experience. In the event, though, it turns out to have been a canny (if not quite ideal) choice.

One major obstacle to success in this opera—especially in our more culturally sensitive century—is offering up the sheer spectacle of Puccini’s faux-Chinese world without falling into schlocky Orientalism and over-busy stage action. Kaige (with superb support from set designer Liu King and costume designer Chen Ton Xun) manages to find just the right touch: There’s no lack of visual splendor, but in part because the staging is inspired by traditional Chinese opera houses, the production has a striking elegance—indeed, one might even say, purity—as well. It may not be, as Mehta calls it in the bonus documentary, an “authentic Chinese” production—but there’s certainly nothing cheap or tawdry; even when huge crowds take over the huge stage, the action is marked by choreographic balance and exquisite control of colors.

Yes, there are a number of missteps. The Emperor is played as a comic drunk, à la Strauss’s Herod; Liù, resisting both the libretto and biological possibility, strangles herself with her scarf. And I wish that Kaige had paid more attention to the acting of the main characters, who often stand stiffly and sing directly to the audience as if nothing were going on around them (that may explain why Calaf refers to Turandot’s silver gown when she’s actually wearing red). But as a totality, this is a visual treat, faithful to the spirit of the score and breathtakingly vivid on Blu-ray.

It’s also an aural treat. The orchestra is a fairly young one, apparently hand-picked by music director Lorin Maazel—it plays with an infectious sense of occasion. Mehta, who’s in charge of the post-season festival, can sometimes be proficient in the worst sense. But his Decca Turandot with Sutherland and Pavarotti has stood for many (including me) at the top of the Turandot audio recordings, and he’s nearly as persuasive here, sweet and searing, haunting and hard, as this kaleidoscopic score requires. On the whole, perhaps, he favors pressure rather than perfume, but the atmosphere is enthralling throughout. The chorus sometimes sounds a bit thin (especially startling given the number of people on stage), but it sings with expression. The 5.1 sound (DTS-HD Master) has tremendous presence and clarity (bass lines are extremely clear), and antiphonal effects (the all-important extra brass as well as the offstage children’s choir) are handled extremely well.

Of course, Turandot also requires some prodigious singing—singing with enough power to cut through the furor but also with enough sensitivity to create at least some sympathy for these vicious characters. For the most part, the leads here have the muscle, but not the nuance. Maria Guleghina, making her debut in the role she has played often since then, is a seasoned Abigale (in Verdi’s Nabucco ; see Fanfare 28:6 and 32:4) and Lady Macbeth (in Verdi’s Macbeth ; see 29:5). She has the necessary volume, reigning over the orchestra in the same way Turadot reigns over China, without signs of vocal distress. But while the singing is solid, there’s not much dramatic flexibility. There’s little sense, for instance, that she’s beginning a transformation during her exchange with Liù; nor is there much indication of her growing attraction to Calaf. Marco Berti is similarly bullish, with a big, well-controlled voice. Big and well controlled—but not especially engaging. Reviewing a recent La Gioconda , Henry Fogel described him as “a typical Italian routinier, with a hard, dry voice, no velvet in the tone, and an occasional tendency to sing flat,” pointing to the fact that “everything seems to sit between mezzo forte and fortissimo ” (30:1). He’s a bit better than that here, actually managing to generate a fair amount of color—but he doesn’t seem especially aware of character or situation, with the consequence that his passion for Turandot remains even more inexplicable than usual. He chooses to cut short the final note of “Nessun Dorma”—which gives the aria a slightly awkward effect. Fortunately, Alexia Voulgaridou, a few pressured moments aside, has the necessary liquidity for Liù—and the other parts are generally well taken.

In the end, then, this doesn’t quite overcome my preferred video version, the familiar Levine/Met performance. Yes, the Met version’s visual quality—which seemed so vivid not so many years ago—is washed out by comparison; its sound is relatively thin; and Zeffirelli’s production relatively hokey. But when Eva Marton and Plácido Domingo are singing, you get brought so fully into Puccini’s perverse world—and, let’s face it, this opera is more perverse even than Salomé —that it’s hard to resist. Still, this new version is a serious contender—and a technical knockout.

FANFARE: Peter J. Rabinowitz
Read less

Works on This Recording

Turandot by Giacomo Puccini
Performer:  Marco Berti (Tenor), Maria Guleghina (Soprano), Alexia Voulgaridou (Soprano),
Fabio Previati (Baritone), Vicenç Esteve (Tenor)
Conductor:  Zubin Mehta
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Valencia Community Orchestra,  Valencia Regional Government Choir
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1926; Italy 

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