Seen and Heard
Soloists, Chorus & Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Covent
Garden, Wednesday, January 26th, 2005 (CC)
Director Jeremy Sutcliffe’s revival of Andrei Serban’s
Turandot is a visual treat. From the very opening (red
banners draped over the stage, masks suspended from the ceiling,
costumes a riot of colour) one enters an at once hyper-real yet
distanced world. There are even some nods towards Baroque opera
convention, in singers descending from on high gilded with fake
golden clouds. Suspended heads on sticks represent the fallen suitors,
souls who dream of the Princess Turandot. Lighting is a dream –
the evening shadows of the end of Act I (conveyed by light filtering
through slits in windows) are marvellously atmospheric, for example.
Similarly for Act III, lanterns illuminate the nocturnal scene,
with slatted shafts complementing this.
The Covent Garden orchestra was on sparking form under the still
under-rated Mark Elder. But there were flies in the ointment, beginning
with the indisposition of the Calaf, Vladimir Galouzine, a tenor
who has toured this role in Paris, the Met, Houston, Madrid and
Marseilles. Instead, we had Ian Storey. Not the happiest of substitutions,
it has to be admitted... weak lower register, drowned by the orchestra
frequently in Act I, and wooden acting. Curiously ‘Nessun
dorma’ (which of course occurs in Act III) revealed the lower
notes are there, really, and similarly there was power
up top too. One has to ask, could he have been saving himself for
the ‘big’ moment? Well, maybe, but even in moments of
quiet where it was dramatic power that is required (as he sets Turandot
his riddle for her towards the end of Act II, for example), he was
His Princess Turandot was US soprano Audrey Stottler, making her
ROH debut in this role (a role she debuted in at the Met in 2002).
Allegedly this is her 29th production of Turandot. Generous
of size she may be, but her voice does not carry the strength that
her girth might be seen to imply. Her tuning in In questa reggia,
as she explains her reasoning behind her use of riddles, was actually
quite painful, made all the more obvious because of the lushness
of the accompanying strings. Cutting tone (she could surely shatter
glass at fortissimo) and the prevalent impression that Stottler
was never once really inside the part left the emotions rather untouched.
There were, however, two singers that outclassed everyone else on
stage, in one case comprehensively so. As Timur, Peter Rose sang
with a gorgeous bass voice (he impressed last year as Bottom in
Night's Dream). More, Rose carried an elder’s authority
(no pun intended). Rose was completely inside the part (actually
the only person on stage to be consistently inside their role all
evening,) reminding this reviewer forcefully of Alastair Miles’
Silva (Ernani) at ENO
(June last year: both share an involving projection of wisdom).
Timur’s grief at Liù’s death was immensely touching.
The Korean-American Hei-Kyung Hong’s Liù was the other
glistening star. She is a regular at the Met, and it is not hard
to see why. Her voice at its best is simply to die for (although
she could be sharp-toned at times), her Signore, ascolta
(Act I) putting Calaf’s immediately-following, weak Non
piangere, Liù completely in the shade. It was in Act
III that Liù shone at her brightest, though, her slow-motion
torture revealing her to be magnificent as she refused to reveal
Calaf’s name, her entreaty to the Ice-Princess superb. Throughout
her diction was exemplary (by far the best of any singer there).
As the three ministers, Ping, Pang and Pong (Quentin Hayes, Andrew
Kennedy and James Edwards respectively) were a complementary mass
of striking, Commedia del’arte-like colour (their obviously
carefully-chosen voices were complementary, too). The chorus got
significantly better as time went on. Starting off as rather surprisingly
scrappy, by act II there was a real warmth coupled with significantly
greater unanimity of purpose and attack.
But Turandot is more than a procession of big moments.
As a dramatic entity it works supremely well, the action flowing
seamlessly under Puccini’s expert hand. Act III was heard
in the traditional Alfano completion. No surprise, although the
use of the Berio (recently heard in London)
would have made a nice change, perhaps as a homage to Berio. Interestingly,
Stottler sang in the first Stateside performance of that completion.
Enabling it all to flow with an inexorable force was (a batonless)
Mark Elder, inspiring his orchestra to great things. The dynamic
range was staggering, from whispered pianissimi to ear-shattering
fortissimi; his accompanying of his singers was spot-on;
his grasp of the larger dramatic picture was always secure. The
strings positively glowed for Turandot’s Act III entrance,
and the brass had superb bite when required. Elder conveyed the
raw force and power of Puccini’s score, and for this we should
all be grateful. He was simultaneously the guiding and unifying
force that enabled this performance to be greater than the sum of
its rather uneven (vocal) parts.
Callas/Serafin (Milan) EMI CDS5 56307-2
Medium/Budget Price: Marton, Carreras, Maazel (live
Vienna Staatsoper). Sony Classical SM2K90444: Review
Credit: Bill Cooper
The Royal Opera House January 2005
HEI-KYUNG HONG AS LIÚ & PETER ROSE AS TIMUR
Conductor: MARK ELDER Original Production: ANDREI SERBAN Directed
by: JEREMY SUTCLIFFEDesigns: SALLY JACOBS Lighting: F. MITCHELL DANAChoreography: