Notes and Editorial Reviews
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Franco Zeffirelli’s magnificent staging of Puccini's final opera, captured here in High Definition Widescreen, is one of the most opulent of all Met productions. A fairy-tale set in a mythical China, the opera tells of the icy Princess Turandot, whose fatal riddles test princes who seek her hand in marriage.
Maria Guleghina takes the demanding title role and Marcello Giordani is Calàf, the unknown prince. Young Russian soprano
Marina Poplavskaya and veteran American bass-baritone Samuel Ramey co-star.
Latvian conductor Andris Nelsons makes his Met debut conducting Puccini's great score which includes the best-loved of all tenor arias - Nessun dorma.
NTSC system; DTS 5.1; 16: picture format; 129 mins
Andris Nelsons, cond; Maria Guleghina (
); Marina Poplavskaya (
); Marcello Giordani (
); Samuel Ramey (
); Tony Stevenson (
); Eduardo Valdes (
); Charles Anthony (
); Metropolitan Op O/Ch
DECCA B0015735-09 (129:00) Live: New York 2009
When this production was first unleashed in 1987, rumors abounded concerning its cost. Franco Zeffirelli never does things by halves when it comes to spending someone else’s money, and various sources, accurately or inaccurately, put the figure at roughly $1.5 million. Which isn’t to say that the Met’s
is any better for its extravagance, but if you want to see a colorful, human-operated, papier-mâché Chinese dragon winding its way through the violence of the opening scene, or the delicate music of the rising moon attended by six head-shaved monks in white robes, wending their way to sit above the dingy gray peasants, here’s a good place to look. I doubt Zeffirelli realized he was restoring the absurdist qualities of the original Gozzi
-influenced play—he can be visually brilliant or meretricious, sometimes both in the same production, never in my experience conceptually complex—but it can’t be missed.
The Liù of Marina Poplavskaya is outstanding. From her opening lines it’s clear that she’s the possessor of a warm lyric soprano handled with great sensitivity, and capable of being filed down to a floating thread of sound. She offers the best Liù I’ve seen or heard on DVD, and one that holds its own against the finest audio competition. As against this, Marcello Giordani’s very bright timbre and powerful sound are definite attractions, but his low notes are weak, he pushes high notes, and goes sharp repeatedly—as on the A below high C right before hitting the gong. He pays little attention to molding the line, and occasionally saves himself all too obviously for climactic moments. For good reason is Poplavskaya’s “Signora, ascolta!” greeted with tumultuous applause here, while Giordani’s answering “Non piangere, Liù” is met with silence.
As for Turandot, it’s in the more than capable hands of Maria Guleghina, who conveys both the ice queen and her tender heart in “In questa reggia,” always with a firm grasp on character both physically and vocally. Presented as coolly controlled and purposefully vindictive rather than a cruel monster, her transformation in act III is more credible than is usually the case. The range and breath support are there, though the voice isn’t at its best until after she sings it in with her big aria. The Ping, Pang, and Pong of Joshua Hopkins, Tony Stevenson, and Eduardo Valdes are uniformly fine, smartly blocked, individually well sung, and becomingly balanced. Samuel Ramey acts Timur like the veteran he is, but his voice is afflicted by a bad wobble. Charles Anthony’s Altoum is actually firmer in tone, though there’s no mistaking that he was 70 at the time this was recorded. Andris Nelsons conducts with both energy and great warmth. No rushing in the Muti manner here.
The camerawork is to be commended for its frequent recourse to diagonals across the stage, opening up a range of angles that capture multiple performers at once. Three factors work against really taking advantage of this, however. First, there’s a tendency to go in for the close-up when anybody sings. Second, there’s the fidgets, a need to change cameras or zoom or pan so often that the extraordinary beauty of the production, its massed choreography and movement (handled with great skill by Chiang Ching and David Kneuss, respectively) are lost. Finally, the crowd scene with numerous activities in act I is meant to be seen at a distance and taken in as a whole, because when viewed as a succession of small groups of performers in close-up—as is usually the case here—they show guards and peasants very badly pulling their punches and moving weapons in slow, exaggerated arcs. Kneuss clearly understood that many kinetic activities can be fudged together at a distance, because the eye doesn’t focus on any one of them. Someone needs to explain that to the Met’s camera team.
I find the positives outweigh the negatives in this production, however. With the best Liù, fervent conducting, a very strong Turandot, excellent production values and acting, even a weak Calaf and the awful filming can’t overcome the score’s effect. True, the full Alfano or Berio ending would have been preferred to the standard heavily abbreviated Alfano that the Met sticks to, but still—recommended.
FANFARE: Barry Brenesal
Works on This Recording
Turandot by Giacomo Puccini
Maria Guleghina (Soprano),
Samuel Ramey (Bass),
Marina Poplavskaya (Soprano),
Marcello Giordani (Tenor)
Metropolitan Opera Chorus,
Metropolitan Opera Orchestra
Written: 1926; Italy
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