Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Turandot, Royal Opera by Cinema Relay

The buzz was like a broken hive. Andrei Serban's production is well thought of but the talk was of the titular soprano, being played here by the American Lise Lindstrom (right), her 100th turn in the role. In the event, all the talk was surpassed.

I've always struggled a bit with Turandot. Not with the beautiful music which flirts with the ascendant fashion of the Second Viennese school's harmonic dissolution. Applied to the inherent rigours of the pentatonic melodies which Puccini brought a priori to Turandot such stylistic affectations are subsumed as just that. No, rather the strictures as applied to the drama mean that the first act can feel rather like a pageant, a parade of tableaux rather than scenes brewing a drama.

Though this was the case in this revival, the production (set in a courtyard, a theatre of its own) embraces the theatricality of the setup with characters in masks and much structured movement (Kate Flatt). Calaf, Timur and Liu stick out like a parody of Parsifal, Gurnemanz and Kundry in a Good Friday meadow in this environment, and so their interactions shine out with full value. This preparation also means that the entrance of Turandot herself in Act 2, complete with Tai Chi-style movement for the ritual of her riddling is both expected and all the more shocking when that facade cracks at Calaf's success.

Crowning this was the simply phenomenal singing of Lise Lindstrom. Her exemplary technique (something one can see in detail with the cinema close-up!) allowed her to act in the same reserved manner as she moved, accentuating the traumatised ice-queen bearing, rendering her music unearthly rather than hectoring. Her extraordinary control allowed for minute attention to characterisation and some wonderful soft singing in the final act. This also took the sting out of losing not only Liu (fine singing from Eri Nakamura) but also Puccini himself; for all the faithfulness Alfano brought to the completion of the score, the drama feels brought to a perfunctory or possibly facile close where the composing baton changes hands. This is rescued by the conviction of Lindstrom and the Earnest Berti, whose heroic bearing met Lindstrom's total absorption of the terrible beauty of the Princess.

Kate Flatt's over-performing choreography was particularly well dispatched by Pi/a/ong who sang well and made something 3-dimensional with their part that can often be a dramatic burden. All supporting roles were well-taken. The relay itself was better than on a previous occasion, with no intermittent music and entertaining & informative interval features. Memorable, especially the wonderful second act.

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