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Giacomo PUCCINI (1858–1924)
Turandot (1926)
Luana DeVol (soprano) – Turandot; Joseph Ruiz (tenor) – Altoum; Stefano Palatchi (bass) – Timur; Franco Farina (tenor) – Calaf; Barbara Frittoli (soprano) – Liù; Lluis Sintes (baritone) – Ping; Francisco Vas (tenor) – Pang; David Alegret (baritone) – Pong; Philip Cutlip (baritone) – A Mandarin; José L. Casanova (tenor) – The Prince of Persia;
Polifonica de Puig-Reig; Cor Vivaldi: Petits Cantors de Catalunya;
Orquestra Simfonica I Cor del Gran Teatre del Liceu/Giuliano Carella
Directed for stage by Núria Espert; Set design: Ezio Frigerio; Costume design: Franca Squarciapino; Lighting design: Vinicio Cheli; Choreography: Marco Berriel;
Directed for TV and Video by Pietro d’Agostino
rec. live, Gran Teatre del Liceu, Barcelona, 24, 27 July 2005
Bonus: Luana DeVol – Following the Dream
Sound Formats: DD 5.1, DTS 5.1, LPCM Stereo; Picture Format: 16:9
TDK DVWW-OPTURL [132:00; 19:00 (bonus)]



This production was originally created in 1999 to inaugurate the Gran Teatre del Liceu for its reopening after the destructive fire of five years earlier. It is a lavish production, as befits such an occasion. During the public scenes the stage is crowded and there are some spectacular sets, not least the Emperor’s throne with two enormous lions’ heads flanking the ruler. It is, as far as I can tell, set in the correct historical time. The people are dressed in greyish working-clothes but I wonder if Ping, Pang and Pong’s robe-like costumes, leaving shoulders and the upper part of the breast bare, really are true to the period. To some degree the effect of the sets are diminished by the lighting, which for some considerable time wraps up the stage in a cold blue light, creating a frighteningly chilly nocturnal effect. Of course a video production can only convey a glimpse of what it is like in the theatre and the director shows much of the action in close-ups or half-distance.
 
The acting is generally good. Ping, Pang and Pong are given lively and humorous portraits, Franco Farina as Calaf acts with small means and a generally stern expression but in close-ups he shows his feelings: a hint of a smile, a widening of the eyes. I wonder though how much of this reached across the pit. Luana DeVol’s Turandot is from the outset a much more vulnerable princess than the traditional woman of ice. Her heart may be of ice but she shows so much triumph, fear, contempt in her exceptionally plastic facial expressions. The end of the opera is unusual in that Turandot stabs herself to death, just as Liù did only moments before. Barbara Frittoli’s Liù may be a bit old-fashioned with wide exaggerated gestures but she also brings out the warmth of her character. In the crowd scenes there is a great deal of individual acting which enhances the feeling of real people. The choral singing isn’t always perfect. The female voices can be a bit sprawling when exposed but in the main there isn’t much room for complaint and the experienced Giuliano Carella leads a well-paced performance. It is worth noticing that before the final duet there is a short pause and a cut from the stage to the pit, where the camera focuses on a music sheet with the last bars that Puccini wrote. What follows then is the usual Alfano completion. As is well known Toscanini, who conducted the premiere at La Scala put down his baton at this very moment.
 
So far so good, then, and everything seems to point towards a clear recommendation. There is only one catch, but an important one: the singing! There are no problems with the three ministers; they sing as well as they act. The emperor looks 5000 years old but his is a steady and well produced voice, sounding much less geriatric than many emperors I have heard. The mandarin also sings his few phrases well. But when we come to the four main characters there are reservations. All of them have more or less prominent beats in their voices. I know that listeners react differently to this and in the case of Barbara Frittoli it is more a characteristic than a nuisance. What is much more apparent is the sheer beauty of her voice and her innate musicality. Both her arias are wonderfully vocalized and sung with great feeling. Stefano Palatchi is a noble Timur but his heavy wobble is devastating. Franco Farina has basically a manly, darkish voice that is well suited to Calaf and he is willing to sing softly at sensitive moments. His final words in act two are sung pianissimo to good effect and in Nessun dorma he also fines down his voice on “splenderò” but all too often he forces terribly, resulting in an ugly vibrato and at climaxes he tends to shout indiscriminately. This doesn’t deter the audience from greeting the aria with rapturous applause.
 
When it comes to Luana DeVol I am full of admiration for her stage presence and charisma. She knows very well what she wants to achieve musically with intelligent phrasing and modulation. At this stage in her career her voice fails to meet the demands put upon it and most of her admittedly testing high-lying role becomes wobbly and prone to shriek. There was very little that was possible to enjoy and my wife decided in the middle of the second act to go for a walk instead of persevering in front of the telly.
 
I may want to hear Barbara Frittoli’s two arias in the future but otherwise I am pretty sure that this set will be collecting dust. There are several preferable alternatives.
 
Göran Forsling
 

 

 

 


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