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Giacomo PUCCINI (1858-1924)
Turandot (1926)
Eva Marton (soprano) Turandot; José Carreras (tenor) Calaf; Katia Ricciarelli (soprano) Liù; Jean-Paul Berger (bass) Timur; Robert Kerns (baritone) Ping; Helmut Wildhaber (tenor) Pang; Heinz Zednik (tenor) Pong; Kurt Rydl (baritone) Mandarin; Waldemar Kmentt (tenor) Altoum
Vienna Boys Choir
Vienna State Opera Chorus and Orchestra/Lorin Maazel.
Rec. live in the Staatsoper, Vienna in 1984. ADD
SONY CLASSICAL SM2K90444 [126’34]


Originally issued on CBS Masterworks, this live Turandot has, perhaps surprisingly, much to recommend it. Surprisingly because Maazel is not always known for variety and depth in interpretation – yet here he achieves more than a measure of profundity at times.

A pity the presentation is so lacking. With only the sketchiest of plot synopses, one is forced onto the internet for the libretto () Furthermore, Acts 1 and 3 are single tracks, Act 2 only being two because it is split across the two discs!. Surely this is unacceptable in this day and age. It makes locating arias for comparison purposes a positive chore.

Being a live performance, there are inevitable pluses and minuses. The plus comes from the frisson live performance brings with it; the minuses from some strange balances that periodically detract. Also the applause can be wearing after a while, spontaneous though it was at the time.

Carreras is the strength at the heart of this reading. His ‘Nessun dorma’ is impassioned, perhaps because the speed is not too funereal - I have heard him sing so slowly I thought it would stop. There is a lyrical flow here, although there is a caveat that the second statement of the words ‘Nessun dorma’ seems to lie too low for his voice.

Eva Marton’s assumption of Turandot is not quite the match for Carreras’s Calaf, although when they duet later in Act 2 they come across as a formidable couple. She is most successful throughout the final act.

As Liù, Katia Ricciarelli provides a more than acceptable reading. Her ‘Signore, ascolta’ (as Liù begs Calaf not to risk his life for the Princess) emerges as a very tender plea. The strength of the casting of Ricciarelli and Marton shows through in Act 3. Marton is tellingly emotive at the line, ‘Sei pallido, straniero!’ – Ricciarelli matches her in terms of dramatic power in the ensuing exchanges. Ricciarelli is similarly impressive in her ‘Tanto amore segreto’.

Kurt Rydl is the Mandarin – he kicks the opera off with a large, imposing reading appropriate for an edict. The trio of Ping, Pang and Pong (here Robert Kerns, Helmut Wildhaber and Heinz Zednik) are great fun. Vocally, Kerns is just about acceptable, though seeming to struggle somewhat at times. John-Paul Bogart’s Timur (the King of the Tartars in exile) suffers from massive over-vibrato at times and can also sound weak in the earlier stages of the opera. He can also sound far too over-literal (as in Act 3, ‘Ah, camminiamo insieme un’ altra volta così’).

As for Maazel, his marshalling of forces is generally excellent. The fairy-tale evocation at the start of Act 3 worked particularly well and his shadowing of his singers is all that one would expect from this conductor. More, his pacing in the final analysis triumphs over problems of casting, balance and sometimes intrusive applause to leave one with a fulfilled impression at the close of the work. His handling of Act 2 in particular conveys the requisite dramatic impetus.

Certainly this recording does not upstage either Mehta’s 1972 recording or Serafin’s 1957 one, but at the price it is certainly worth hearing.

Colin Clarke

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