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Giacomo PUCCINI Turandot: 
at the Savonlinna Opera Festival 14.7.2009

Stage Director, stage Design, Costumes and Lighting Design: Pet Halmen


Princess Turandot – Lise Lindstrom
The Emperor Altoum – Lassi Virtanen
Timur – In-Sung Sim
Calaf – Warren Mok
Liù – Inna Dukach
Ping – Eijiro Kai
Pang – Aki Alamikkotervo
Pong – Juha Rihimäki
A Mandarin – Alexandr Gerasimov
Iloinen Lapsikuoro Children’s Choir and Linnanneidot Youth Choir
Savonlinna Opera Festival Choir & Orchestra/Jari Hämäläinen

The wide stage at the Olavinlinna Castle (24 metres) is not easy to make use of in a constructive way. Since the depth is only moderate (about 8 metres) there have to be many compromises. Entrances and exits have to be made via long staircases, which also reduces opportunities for surprises and the chorus need plenty of time to fill the stage. Romanian-born director Pet Halmen had placed a small cubic dais centre-stage, where much of the important action took place. On both sides there were constructions reminiscent of gigantic bicycle stands, where the chorus often stood. This Turandot is not set in ancient times but somewhere around the time of the Cultural Revolution. The bicycle reference isn’t inappropriate, remembering that the Chinese were at that time a biking people. Where the Bolshoi production at Dalhalla a few years ago had the stage invaded by Emperor
Qin Shi Huang’s terracotta army, Halmen instead has an army of anonymous soldiers dressed in blue. The crowd leader directs his army, Mao’s little red book in hand, when taking the bow at the end of the performance.

Calaf, in white uniform, looks more like Pinkerton in Madama Butterfly, another selfish tenor in Puccini’s world. Liù is a typical maid in black dress with a cute little apron. Ping, Pang and Pong appear all through the performance in various disguises, from three surgeons in the opening scene, operating on Timur, to three Chaplinesque characters. All in all the three ministers dominate the proceedings even more than they normally do. I can’t help feeling that the aforementioned Bolshoi production was more grandiose. Halmen scores in the very evocative lighting and the large face-masks that decorate the stage. As for Princess Turandot she is the usual icy bitch throughout act II but weakens quite early in the third act, being impressed by Liù’s unselfish love. Towards the end of Liù’s touching aria, Turandot hands over a dagger to Liù, allowing her to commit suicide. An interesting reading.

The chorus and orchestra have always been a great asset at Savonlinna and this production was no exception. Jari Hämäläinen led a middle-of-the-road performance but the excellent acoustics made it possible to hear much more detail in the orchestral fabric than is usually the case, sometimes making me wonder whether this was a revised orchestration.

Not all the solo singing was of the first rank. The Mandarin was wobbly and Timur – Korea born In-Sung Sim – was rusty and pressed the voice terribly at times. Lassi Virtanen, a stalwart at both the Savonlinna Festival and the Finnish National Opera, was an uncommonly noble and youthful Emperor Altoum and the ministers were a well matched trio. American soprano Lise Lindstrom has made Princess Turandot her signature role and will make her Metropolitan debut in the role next season. She is slim and good-looking and has a bright but slightly edgy voice. She is a fearless singer though and delivered In questa reggia with impressive power. Warren Mok was rather uneven but he finished Nessun dorma gloriously – though nuances are evidently not his strongest suit. The best singer in that respect was Inna Dukach as Liù, who was exceptionally sensitive in the slave girl’s two arias, marred only by a slightly gritty basic tone.

Something of a mixed bag, then, but there is much to enjoy, not least the choral contributions.

Göran Forsling

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